How to spread your inner light
Diwali for me was my paternal grandmother Amma. It was the only time of the year all my father’s siblings who were in town got together for dinner and behaved in a civilized manner with each other over cocktail samosas in Amma’s living room. The boxing trophies they had won in boarding school looked on amusedly from the mantelpiece as I talked and smiled excessively to fill in the awkward silences in an extended family that hadn’t really stayed together.
On this one day, my grandmother sparkled more than the apartment that had been specially cleaned for the occasion. She opted for pastel pink instead of her regular white nightie and lorded over everyone from her wheelchair. Nothing gave her more joy than her children and their children coming home for a meal.
She didn’t play cards any more but there was always an elaborate hatri puja. The hatri is supposedly a replica of the mythological flying chariot that Ram used to escape from Ravan in the Ramayan, though she never told us that story. She preferred the tale of Shabari, who tasted every berry before offering only the sweet ones to Ram.
I would like to believe I was her favourite grandchild, but that honour was reserved for my cousin Gyan, the firstborn, who beat me to the title by two years. He remembers the time our grandfather died when we were toddlers. It was around Diwali and she was gutted. “Despite that she gifted us silver-coloured pistols loaded with tikli ‘bullets’, all purchased from the store in the building. We were running around the house firing while the prayers were taking place,” he recalls.
The last time I saw all her children together in her house was at her funeral. Again, it was around Diwali. She bequeathed her home to her offspring, instructing them never to sell it. Maybe it was her way of keeping the family together.
After she died in 2012, Diwali became a time of reflection and remembrance for me. This festival should be about something bigger than fighting over whether or not it was right for the Supreme Court to ban firecrackers in Delhi and the National Capital Region, don’t you think? Why not make it about banishing the hatred around us and focus on a different kind of light?
Let’s speak up for love rather than being quiet witnesses to hate. Even Manyavar, that over-the-top men’s ethnic-wear brand, now makes advertisements about harmony: “Har tyohaar, India ka tyohaar,” proclaims brand ambassador Virat Kohli as he lists how our different festivals embrace all communities.
But what can we do to counter hate? Most of the time we juggle our helplessness, fear and gloom. “I feel scared to live in this country,” a friend who is in an inter-faith marriage messaged after the death of journalist and vocal dissenter Gauri Lankesh. “It’s like this dark cloud closing down,” she added.
It reminded me of a recent conversation where a bestie and I were discussing politics—the easiest way to lose friends in the New World—when she abruptly said: “You like to discuss all the awful things that are going on. I don’t see the point of discussing this stuff when neither of us does anything about it.” I found inspiration in the unlikeliest place.
“Do satyagraha at your own space. Your Community, Your School, Your Theatre group, Your Workspace, Your Town Hall, is where you do the satyagraha.” I was gobsmacked by this simple yet brilliant idea that appears in a booklet brought out by the crafts industry, which is fighting the goods and services tax (GST) on handmade products through a unique “tax-denial satyagraha”. I read it here after it was written about in a Bangalore Mirror column. Here are some more ideas to get you started.
Speak up. Don’t listen to hate speech quietly. You say you don’t want to get into pointless arguments with haters? Fine. Equip yourself with facts. Most of these arguments are easy to win if you know what data to throw back. Walk away. Exit groups. Indicate clearly that you don’t subscribe to the politics of hate. Even one quarterback kneeling when the US anthem is played at a football stadium can become a national movement about free speech and racial justice, as we have seen in recent months in that country.
Feel strongly about something, anything. Kashmir, lynchings, Section 377, violence against women and Dalits, farmer suicides, domestic workers—there’s no shortage of awful battles that have to be waged in India. Sign a petition. Go to a protest march. Donate to organizations that are fighting hate. Or just hop on to someone else’s brilliant idea, like I did recently when I joined a part of human rights activist Harsh Mander’s Karwan-e-Mohabbat or Caravan of Love. “Are we silent because we are scared or are we silent because we approve? I want to take this journey and seek answers,” he tweeted before the month-long journey, a response against the recent rise in murders in the name of the cow.
Be selective in your social engagements. You don’t have to be like me and say: “No thanks, I don’t hang out with haters.” You can say: “Sorry, stomach bug. Maybe next time.” Or whatever it is polite people say. And while you’re isolating yourself from the haters, strengthen your relationships with people who care, people who have the ability to feel empathy for others. Understand that we are a community too. Support each other on social media, that automatically keeps the bullies away.
Be creative. Express your stand against hate in your writing, through your art, in your poetry and in your jokes as a stand-up comic.
And my favourite idea, also from those protesting the GST on handmade goods. “Sing, if possible. Sing songs, in praise of nature, in praise of labour, in praise of the sant parampara, such as Kabir, Ravidas, Vachanakaras, etc. Do not pontificate. Do not politicize. Do not get angry. Be fearless. Court arrest if need be.”
Let me go make my protest playlist before Diwali.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.
She tweets at @priyaramani