I’ve been up until at least 2am every night this week, and this is going to continue for a few more days. It’s not because I’ve been partying (well ok, that was true on Saturday night), but because of the extremely loud firecrackers that Mumbaikers have been lighting all night all over the city. Firecrackers, and really anything that makes a loud noise and a bright light are part of celebrating Diwali, or as I like to call it, “Indian Hanukah.”* I realize I’m repeating Andrew’s post a bit, but bear with me. Diwali in Mumbai is a bit different.
If you’re not familiar, here is some background: Diwali predominantly celebrates Lord Ram’s return from his fourteen year exile in the jungle and thus, the triumph of good over evil as recorded in the Ramayana. When Ram, accompanied by his faithful wife Sita and his brother Lakshman, returned to Ayodhya to regain his place on the throne, the citizens lit a row, wali, of oil lamps, diyas or dipas, to illuminate the path (Diya + wali + linguistic evolution = Diwali or Dipawali). There are also many other stories tied into the celebration of Diwali, several of which involve Laxshmi, the bearer of physical, mental, and material wellbeing, and her evolution out of the Sea of Milk (one of my favorite Hindu imageries).
The material aspect of Laxshmi puja comes across pretty strong in Mumbai, especially since I live in a major shopping area. To many, Diwali seems to mean gifts, which iOutside my apartment, I see street children compete for diya sales, shopkeepers one-up each other with their window displays, husbands one-up each other at high end jewelry stores, and people worshipping idols covered in money and gold coins. I can also see parents teaching their toddlers to light fireworks at midnight on a school night, but that’s a different story.
One of the highlights of my Diwali happened while I was trying to open a bank account. The teller in charge of my account was rather short and looked a little bit like a leprechaun. When I showed up to see if this would be the lucky day for me and my finances, I was told he was out buying gold coins. This tickled me to no end. Little leprechaun man, lucky day, gold coins. Turns out that’s a Diwali tradition but I still like to picture him at the end of a rainbow somewhere.
On the night before Diwali, I ventured out of my expat cocoon in Bandra to a coworker’s house in South Bombay for her poker party. There, I stood awkwardly while a room full of gorgeous middle-aged women, dripping in diamonds and swathed in bright silk saris, completely ignored their husbands in favor of an aggressive and high stakes game of teen patti while servants refilled their crystal wine glasses. I played couple hands but it was clear I was nowhere near their level.
The third highlight was the picture above. I, and what seemed like every single other man, woman, and child, was out in stores on the first day of Diwali. Normally I find the style of hospitality offered in retail stores here invasive and misguided, lingerie sales clerks being major offenders. On this day, the awkwardness was compounded by the fact that there was a ten minute long puja going on at the register, and all the salesclerks were all taking pictures in their special Diwali saris. There it is, my photographic representation of Diwali in Mumbai.
*Both Diwali and Hanukah are “The Festival of Lights,” last for several days, involve oil lamps, gambling, gold coins, and spoiling your children with presents and sweets (at least that’s how we do it in my family…). Coincidence??