Diwali. Mention this holiday, and I'm traveling back in time to a place I've never been in this context. I can see one of those psychedelic spiral time warps suck me down through the colorful years, slupring me so hard I fly back before my time across continents and experience the festivities in India.
I can't remember my first few Diwalis, but I have vivid memories of my parents describing fire crackers and sweets and colors and crowds. I looked forward to joining in on the festivities, and always thought I would experience it at some point in my childhood, but at age 33, I still have not celebrated Diwali in the Grandmotherland. My associations with the holiday are not my memories, but mostly my mother's. I imagined rangoli, shankar pali, chakli, and kandils long before I really saw them. I heard stories, and they became mine. I saw myself outdoors in a crowd full of decked out desis with lots of children. I saw myself in my new Diwali clothes smelling earthy after bathing in utna, milk, and oil, holding something that sparkles and sparks and then being called in to partake of the sweet and savory snacks.
Over the years, I experienced several Diwalis. My parents tried to make it as "authentic" as possible. We bathed in Trader Joe's olive oil. The chivda was sometimes made using Rice Crispies. Scented candles represented the kandils. I remained nostalgic for the Diwali I never experienced.
A few years back, the nostalgia transformed as I fully looked forward to celebrating Diwali in the California 'burbs. A new ritual had been established, a new culture carved. My parents took what they knew and created. I knew I could expect five types of pohe, chakli, sweets and the warmth and light of the kandils as old school Bollywood tunes played in the background.
Authenticity was redefined as Diwali took on another meaning. I still look back fondly at the memories I never had, but I'm grateful for my own experience. This year, as I eagerly await tomorrow's festivities, I take a look at myself and question my authenticity. This year, I as I renew myself and charge my inner spark, I vow to take what I know and create.