A silent and nurturing Diwali
The first time in my life that I made a rangoli on Diwali, I was staying in a Circuit House deep in the forests of Bastar in Chhattisgarh.
That year, I had been living in Bhilai and teaching a documentary film course to a group of young adults. Over the prolonged Diwali weekend, which was too long to stay in our guest house and too short to go home to Delhi, my colleagues Margaret, Ajay and I decided to travel as far into Bastar as we could.
As we began to drive away from the urban industrial belt of Durg-Bhilai-Raipur, and after we crossed Jagdalpur, we found ourselves travelling deeper and deeper into the cosy, magical interiors of one of the most biodiverse forests on earth.
How can I describe the awe we felt at the sight of the Chitrakoot falls on the Indravati river? The constant roar of the river crashing into a deep gorge was so loud, it drowned out every thought from my brain. We stood on the edge of rocks, watching the whiteness where the river hit the stony bed below. We were enveloped by a soft mist of droplets.
We travelled further into the forest in silence, arriving at what seemed like an abandoned Circuit House by night.
On the morning of Diwali, Ajay busied himself with arranging food for all of us with the help of the caretaker. Margaret, who is a film-maker from London, looked at me and asked what I was going to do for Diwali. I had never really done anything myself. I had just followed others in my family, participating in whatever they were doing. I wondered what kind of Diwali experience I could create for us.
For the first time, I had a blank slate to define what I wanted my Diwali to be like. I had already embraced the silence that the jungle offered. I found three colours—loose brown earth, small granules of red earth and white chalk powder. I began to create designs on the cement floor outside the doors, and the corridors of the place we were staying in. My rangolis consisted of flowers, animals and symmetrical patterns.
As night fell in the forest that is known as Dandakaranya, the land where Ram, Sita and Laxman, from the mythological epic Ramayan, supposedly lived during their 14 years of exile, the only lights that pierced the darkness were fireflies flitting between the trees.
Birds settling back in their nests and insects singing in the bushes were the only sounds celebrating the return of Ram, Sita and Laxman to Ayodhya. The new-moon night of Diwali didn’t ask for any more. We laughed at the irony of celebrating Diwali by driving into the heart of the land of their exile.
I missed being with my family, but my own personal Diwali was complete and fulfilled.
It will be Diwali again next week. Now I am a parent, living in a metro city. In their school, our children have been exposed to the essential ethic of not adding to the noise and air pollution that our immediate environment is already besieged by. Among cousins, they feel the peer pressure of at least trying the firecrackers that look pretty and exciting and make whoosh sounds, like anaars, charkhis and rockets.
My mother and my eldest daughter are both long-time sufferers of asthma, which invariably flares up every year when it is Diwali in Delhi. This year the Supreme Court has announced a ban on the sale of firecrackers, but there is already outrage on social media against what is being interpreted as an assault on Hindu culture.
I am wondering if more and more of us can dare to choose a silent, creative and nurturing Diwali for our family and ourselves. It will mean turning away from ostentatious gift exchanges. Choosing not to spend money on firecrackers and junk food hampers, but giving it away for a good cause. For many of us, it may be a journey to leave the city when it is contaminated by collective fireworks and seek the protection of forests again.
It will require us to individually re-examine our notion of pleasure, celebration and devotion. I believe we are ready for this.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and author of the book My Daughters’ Mum.
She tweets at @natashabadhwar