I have missed celebrating every major holiday with my friends and family at least once because I’ve been traveling to far off lands or attempting to settle in foreign soil. This year, I will not only miss a plethora of important birthdays before heading back to Las Vegas for a visit, but also Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
Lucky for me, India has no shortage of festivals! Diwali, The Festival of Lights, was my first “hands on” experience being officially homeless for the holidays in India… or so I thought. From the moment my lackluster Diwali plans were revealed, my friends, coworkers and even my landlords opened their doors and adopted this American.
I had anything but a normal day at the office. From the moment I stepped foot through the large glass doors, something felt different. A wave of energy seemed to transform our generally shy staff into vivacious characters full of laughter and chatter. The women were far more authoritative than usual, especially when it came to quickly replacing my freshly pressed Western clothes with traditional Indian garb. Compliments flooded in after my makeover which included a pink sari that would make Barbie jealous, heavy jewelry, and a delicate bindi. A mixture of cultural education, play and only tiny bit of work over the next 9 hours left me unprepared for the following week jammed with travel, but with an undeniable bond formed from spending 30 minutes sweating in a bathroom while 6 women argue over proper pleating and pinning.
I am absolutely sure my landlords have my mobile number, or at least my email address. They chose neither forms of communication when extending an invitation for Diwali. Instead they opted for a much more personal invite via the driver.
10am. Driver arrives at my flat to confirm my attendance for tonight’s celebrations. My maid informs the driver that I will not be attending tonight as I have made other plans to celebrate at a friend’s house. I was not only unaware I was expected to attend, but also that my maid knew what my plans were. It was too early in the morning to question any of this and opted for a cup of coffee instead of discussion.
11:15am. Mrs. Landlord arrives. She immediately informs me that that “this is not good” and “you will now be coming to lunch”. Literally, she meant now. I was in no shape or form to be stepping foot outside of my bedroom, but managed to negotiate 10 minutes to get myself together.
12.00pm. Found myself discussing the topic of arranged marriages and why I was not married already. Priceless.
12:30pm. Still answering questions on my life. What do my parents do for a living? Why did they let me move so far away? Was I worried I would never find a husband in my own country when I return home?
1pm. We sit down to eat mounds of vegetarian delights, and much to their disappointment the food is not too spicy for my foreign palate.
8pm. Head to the amazing Ms. Tarana Raja’s flat for what I can guarantee is the most entertaining Diwali celebration Mumbai has to offer. We started the night with the traditional Pooja ritual followed by snacking on scrumptious, homemade Indian snacks. While most women in Mumbai our age were monitoring the firecrackers being set off all night, our group found the idea of lighting fireworks and dancing with sparklers irresistible. After rekindling our love for things that go “BOOM”, the bubbles of Moet & Chandon filled our glasses and mouth-watering food filled our plates. Sharing of life stories, food, laughter, and love until late in the night made me forget I was anywhere other than home. Holiday cheer oozed from my pores as I drifted off to sleep.
I will admit I dreaded the thought of joining in on the Diwali celebrations of a coworker, but the thought of disappointment that would come from denying such a warm gesture had me boarding the 6.30pm train towards Charni Road. Proudly sporting my new kurta and a forced smile, I embarked on a night that would be the perfect preface for my week to come (yes, of course I will blog about that soon!)
After stuffing my face yet again with delicious food, discussion of my upcoming week brought about the idea that a motorbike ride through the Red Light District, Kamathipura, would be a good idea. Of course I agreed and away we went on a motorbike ride swerving through the streets stretching from Colaba to Bandra. The streets of Kamathipura lit up with lanterns for Diwali were flooded with men at around 10pm and left me with a colossal amount of questions. My coworker answered as much as he could over chili and ginger ice-cream at Bachelors only to be followed by an even more intense question and answer session during a carriage ride around the Taj hotel. Feeling my safety had been compromised enough for the night, he offered to lug me all the way back to Bandra on the back of his motorbike. What was the proper payment for such a night and petrol usage? Tandoori Chicken, of course! A quick stop off at a local Muslim hotel for their well known Tandoori Chicken and fresh lime soda wrapped up my first annual Diwali.
This holiday weekend I learned I am in no way homeless for the holidays, but rather in my home away from home surrounded with peace, love, and holiday cheer.