19 July 2012

Deepavali bonus

She’s hoped, dreamed, planned and plotted all this year just so they can both land up at home in Chennai and surprise the family – by their sudden, joint visit on Deepavali day!

She’d saved up leave and money and booked heavily discounted airline seats. And here’s the hardest thing she had to do – work on and finally convince younger sibling Ananya, the more stolid and less excitable one (chalk to her cheese) into falling in with her plans. So then, why would she want to kill the surprise by letting the family know in advance of their trip, no matter what Ananya says?

Thankfully though, now, at the airport, Ananya doesn’t pursue this line of conversation. She busies herself by ordering a coffee and lamington. “I prefer to wait for authentic Indian sweets”, she says firmly and rather haughtily, pushing the plate away as Ananya waves it temptingly under her nose. “You can get Indian sweets even in the shops here, you know,” says Ananya reasonably, but she pretends not to hear. She doesn’t want to hear!

****

Having already been through two flights across multiple time zones, normally, the last leg of the journey is the most tiresome. But not today. She whiles away the time by letting her imagination run riot down memory lane….

Although it’s been 10 years since she was home for Deepavali, she can almost smell the pungent, chemical odours of the firecrackers, see the hazy fog that seems to prevail in the city on Deepavali day. She can feel the anticipation that starts days in advance, when people start bursting firecrackers, buying new clothes…all the Deepavali preparations. And then finally, the early morning wake-up on D(eepavali)-day (that is if they were lucky enough to sleep!!) What with firecrackers going off all night and having to get up at the crack of dawn for the traditional bath, sleep has never been big on the Deepavali day list. And then, of course the food, without which no Indian festival is complete.  Sweets dripping ghee and sugar, garnished generously with fried almonds and cashews, scented with cardamom, saffron and the best spices. The crisp fried savouries that melted in your mouth! She practically salivated at the very thought…..surely all the time and work she’d put in to making this trip happen was worth it.

****

She can barely sit still during the short tax ride home! But even as they were turning into their street, she starts to deflate slowly. The smoky haze is still absent as far as she can see (something that she had subconsciously noticed during the entire tax ride, but which she acknowledges only now). She can hear just the odd firecracker going off in the distance.  Given that it is Deepavli morning, surely, there should be more action than this?

Then finally, they were home! She knockss on the door, stepping smartly over the elegantly drawn, traditional kolam at the entrance. Dad opens the door and starts in surprise: “See who’s here…”

*****

“What do you mean, there are no sweets at home? And where are the firecrackers? Even if you’re all too old, why isn’t anyone else in the apartment building or our street letting off any?” she demands rather rudely, glaring at mom and grandmother, hardly half an hour later. The pleasure of the sudden homecoming has already been diluted.

“Oh, child labour and pollution”, dad says, sauntering over to her. She gapes at him.

“Well, the fire cracker manufacturers were using child labour to make them and bursting them does create pollution, so this year, we, the educated middle-class have boycotted them”, he says with a touch of quiet pride.

 “Besides, there are so many special Deepavali day programmes on TV that you can happily watch them all day long without wanting to do these other things,” chimes in mom.

“Well, what about the sweets then? Eating them is definitely my own business…!”

“Oh, Dad’s cholesterol levels are high. And your grandparents have diabetes so, this year, we decided that we wouldn’t make any”, mumbles mum, already foreseeing and dreading her temper tantrum. “Of course, if only we had known you both were coming…but don’t worry, we can run down to the shops and get some, nowadays, they are as good as the ones we make at home…And I am sure we can get some new clothes for you.” 

Ananya says in a very expressionless voice: “And don’t forget, the sweets are full of sugar and calories, whether they are home-made or bought at the shops. Even if they are made in India”!

Ah Deepavali! Is there anything else left of it?

 “Well, come on, come on, the traditional baths aren’t good for our sinus problems, so we’ve skipped it. But you don’t have to”, says mum in a placating voice.

So this is what she travelled across two continents for. At least, she thinks, I am with family on Deepavali day, surely, that is surely the most important thing.

But she knows she will have to work on Ananya, possibly for the rest of my life, to regain lost credibility and authority…and that she may never be successful.

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