Sibling Love

I have very select memories from the time I was around three years old and there are specifically two incidents that I still remember about the arrival of my younger sister. One is an image of my mother walking past a doorway with a heavy, protruding belly and my extreme excitement about my younger sibling’s arrival. The other is of rushing to greet my mother in the hospital room after the baby was born, where I, beaming with happiness, ate my favorite okra vegetable with her and the newborn by my side.

My sister and ISiblings Day does not seem to have caught as much of manufacturers’ and advertisers’ attention as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day have. Ignoring the commercial aspect that usually accompanies them and considering only emotions, I feel that Siblings Day deserves equal importance. After all, we have to commemorate those epic moments of fighting like cats and dogs!

At a party a few months ago, a teenage son of a friend was narrating how he had succeeded in scaring his younger sister with a scary costume during Halloween.

“That’s so cool! Hahaha!”, was the remark that escaped me while two other girls who were also listening showed the opposite emotion with a sympathetic, “Oh no! Your poor sister!”

I thought about our reactions for a moment and said to them, “Do you see the difference? Both of you girls being the younger siblings in your respective families immediately empathized with his younger sister. I, on the other hand, being the elder sibling had the opposite response to the elder brother’s actions. I expressed joy because he succeeded in tormenting his younger sibling!”

Oh, the joy of teasing them with the silliest of things! When my sister was around two or three years old, while going somewhere by car, I would wait until we passed a prominent statue and then boast about how I had successfully seen the statue and taunt her that she had missed it completely. This would drive her wild. Then there was my usual sing-song voice and victory dance that would drive her up the wall if I got something right or managed to do something and she didn’t. I truly relished this devilish happiness. How I enjoyed those fists coming at me in boiling rage! It is not just the boys who get physical when quarreling. Both of us sisters not only engaged in such fights but enjoyed the action immensely. As we grew older, we would turn the large bed in our room into a fighting rink by pummeling and wrestling each other on it vigorously. It was so much fun!

Watching Jurassic Park when it had newly released way back in the nineties, my five-year-old sister had clung to my mother, trembling in her lap, scared stiff as the dinosaurs went on a rampage on screen. For a long time after, I extracted immense pleasure in torturing her with the idea that there were dinosaur eggs under her bed and swore that I had seen one of those mighty beasts outside by the window at night. During school years, when she was in a sour mood, tired, hungry and sleepy after a long day, with me sitting opposite her at the dinner table, I would be slyly waiting to catch her eye and do something like smile an evil taunting smile or make a face that had the potential to trigger an immediate outburst from her. Ultimately, all our arguments, name-calling, screaming, physical fighting, complaints and disciplining by parents only added up to cement the beautiful bond we share and now they provide fun memories during adulthood conversations.

It is difficult to note down in a small space all the glorious things about the relationship between us. I have known her since she was born and she has never known a life without me in it. We currently live on different continents with a strong, invisible rope tethering us together. If I do not get to speak to her for more than a few days, I start to feel uneasy. We talk about almost everything under the sun. A voracious reader, she shares her views on a topic that is very close to our hearts – books. She encourages me to pursue my passion for writing as I turn to her for precious feedback. I have often told people how mature she is for her age, how she is in reality my older sister despite being younger by three years. We swap tips on make-up, fashion and cooking. We talk about our jobs and daily routines. Current events, science, history, geography find their way into our conversations. We talk about our troubles or about things that make us burst into fits of laughter. In spite of living apart and missing each other more than words can say, we try to find a way to continue to open our hearts to each other.

Healthy sibling relationships make us better people. They teach us to be friends, to share, to be responsible, to co-exist and to love. They can influence the person we become and prepare us for other interactions in society. This article ‘How does birth order affect relationships?’ shows how they prepare us for relationships with our partners and spouses. Many of the wonderful, conflict-free interactions I have with my husband have been influenced by those with her. For example, if we disagreed on something and were annoyed with each other, my sister and I never got into the habit of not talking to each other. I find that the concept of giving someone the silent treatment is immature and egoistic and am glad that my sister and I never did it. In the end, I can say that my sister is not only related to me by blood but she is my best friend. She is the most precious gift my parents ever gave to me …

… as well as a chance to better appreciate the hilarious video below!

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Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Snowflake earring

My special snowflake earring!

I arrived in Bay Area, California as a student from India some years ago and as long as I’ve stayed here, I have never traveled to any other region of the country in winter. During this season, while most other places shiver as temperatures dip, Bay Area continues to frolic under the sun (previous post: Sunshine). Consequently I had never known what it felt like to experience snowfall or never had a chance to play with all that white goodness. Even in India, I had never been to the Himalayan regions during winter. My husband and I had gone skiing before (previous post about our first trip: It was s(n)o(w) very good). However, it was at the tail end of a mild winter and the slopes had begun to turn slushy under the rising heat later on. By this year, I had developed a nagging craving to witness snowfall. Fortunately, if you live in the Bay Area, all you have to do to reach the nearest snowy place is just hop into a car and a four hour drive later, there you are in the whitewashed mountains around Lake Tahoe. California had seen a severe drought this season with very little rainfall or snowfall. When the weather finally took a turn for the better, hubby dearest immediately planned an overnight trip there so that those wishful thoughts that shrieked ‘snow! snow! snow!’ in my head could be laid to rest.

Our car climbed upward into the mountains around the lake and soon enough milky peaks began to rise over the tops of coniferous trees lining the road. I started to give excited squeaks as gorgeous mountains covered entirely in snow burst into view. The narrow road wound up higher and higher until the pines bordering it began to show up decked in white as well. The noises coming from me grew into chuckles, shrieks and whoops. It was when snow flurries came whirling toward the windshield that I finally lost my mind. I was finally seeing snow fall! We stopped at a vista point with a heavenly view of the lake in the distance so that I could get out of the car to jump and dance by the side of the road.

SnowmanThe light shower stopped soon after as we descended into the town. We had lunch and checked in to our hotel. Snowfall was predicted again towards evening and we decided to head up to higher elevations at that time. We parked at a popular vista point that overlooks Emerald Bay and turned around to notice a clearing amidst some pine trees on the mountainside where people had stopped to play in the snow. Kids slid down small slopes in their sleds and played to their hearts content. Snowmen made by tiny hands stood around smiling their friendly smiles. It began to snow as I ran toward the play area with an excitement to match the kids’. I was late to this party by so many years! Powdery, pristine snow lay undisturbed, untrodden, waiting for me as I leaped onto a giant white bed. My husband and I had our first intense fight – a fun, snowball one  – as we gathered, packed and hurled balls of snow at each other.

It snowed more after that and I stood gazing up in wonder, at times with my tongue sticking out to catch those icy cold flakes. How delicate they looked as they landed softly on my arm! How silently they fell from the sky! How prettily they decorated the earth! They were even better than I had imagined them to be in childhood when sprinkling flour or icing sugar in the kitchen.

Foot prints in snowWhile returning home we stopped by a golf course that stretched white in all directions and began to stroll alongside it. Ah, the satisfaction you get when walking on snow as it crunches deliciously under your feet! A therapeutic feeling similar to crushing dead leaves underneath or popping bubble wrap with fingers! An hour later we visited a park consisting of a heavily wooded snow-covered forest. There was not enough time to explore it further but I stood for some time among the pine trees with what looked like huge dollops of plain yoghurt at our feet and the sunlight falling in patches from time to time. The crisp air and the silence of that winter wonderland filled me up completely. It was pleasantly broken by the snow that had accumulated on the branches falling off them like fairy dust and making sounds like that of some animal scrambling away. I closed my eyes for a moment and let the entire experience sink in before it dissolved into a memory, like a tiny snow flake that had landed on my palm before it turned to water and dripped off my fingers.

Snow covered golf course

* Title of this post taken from the old song ‘Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!’ that would play on repeat in stores while shopping during the holiday season.

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Freak incident on California’s Highway 101

US Highway 101My workplace is around twenty miles away from my home here in California. Fortunately two of my colleagues give me a reliable and convenient carpool option to commute. For traveling to office we take U.S. Highway 101, which carries a high volume of rush hour traffic with delays and accidents sprinkled liberally along its length during peak hours. On Monday evening last week, we made our way home as usual, taking advantage of the comparatively faster moving leftmost carpool lane. The other non-carpool four lanes to our right hand side on the freeway were in motion as well with speeds at around fifty to sixty miles an hour. I was on the backseat chatting with the colleague who was driving. Our third colleague sat next to him in the passenger seat, checking something on her phone.

All of a sudden the car in front of another one in the lane next to ours on our right started wobbling. It began to turn itself in the middle of the road and continued thus, making not one, not two but almost three and a half circles while crossing the lanes to its right hand side. All this RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF MOVING TRAFFIC! Sparks flew from underneath it as it performed these antics. To top it all, after spinning like that, the car now became completely reversed, facing the OPPOSITE direction, with traffic coming at it! And for a second or two, it kept moving backward in that state!

The driver somehow managed to turn it around. It started to spin once again, this time, to its original place towards the left. There it came whirling in circles towards us as if in an action movie! In my mind’s eye, I still see all this happening in slow motion – the out-of-control car careening madly towards ours, our driving colleague slowing down and instinctively beginning to lean our car to the shoulder of the road on our left, my other colleague on the passenger seat and I shrieking and the man in that crazy car with his white hair, dark sunglasses and a red and blue shirt coming closer and closer in what seemed like an imminent collision.

Then the car slowed down. Before it could get into our lane and hit us, it lost its momentum and our car passed it safely as we sped ahead on our way. I looked back and saw it finally come to a stop with other vehicles around it decreasing speed and stopping as well.

The three of us in our car erupted into exclamations and shouts as we tried to make sense of what we had just seen. I was so freaked out that I could not even remember what type of car it was. My passenger-seat colleague said it was a Mercedes Class C and added that she had spotted a cell phone in the driver’s hand. My colleague who was driving had seen everything from the start. He put two and two together and figured out what might have happened. The driver, having been distracted by the cell phone in his hand, had begun to drift into the lane on his left, that is, our lane. Suddenly he had realized what was happening and while trying to get back within the boundary of his own lane, had probably jerked the steering wheel too hard. This overcompensation might have caused the car to begin spiraling out of control.

Miraculously, the car had not hit other vehicles in spite of being right in the middle of heavy traffic. All the cars around it had somehow managed to give it enough space while it went nuts all over the place. How we all wished there had been a dashboard camera to record the whole circus! Because the ‘incident’ had not turned into an ‘accident’, we could spare some amusement at it. However, there was a valuable lesson in there – never to use cell phones while driving. I’m sure that every spectator on the road that day, after having been scared stiff, must have been very glad that it had not been a lesson learned the hard way.

My colleagues recounted fascinating incidents they had witnessed while driving in the past. One of them had been inside his car that had skidded in circles in a similar fashion and the other one told us how a car had on the opposite side had crossed the divider and leaped over hers to land on her side. What fantastic tales from the road, dear reader, do you have to share?

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My short story ‘Sailing Away’ posted on The Bactrian Room

My short story ‘Sailing Away’ has been accepted and posted on The Bactrian Room. The editor gave me valuable feedback. Here is what he said:

I notice that you use the word “but” a lot. You need to watch that habit. Also, stay away from long sentences. English is better short and quick. I thought it was a good subject, and I like the ending image.

He made minor changes to the submission, which I totally agreed with, like removing an over-the-top simile, breaking down a large paragraph into logical smaller ones, removing pesky ‘buts’ that were butting in all over the place and chopping one very lengthy sentence that was twice as long as this current one you are reading!

Please read the story on http://bactrianroom.blogspot.in/2014/01/deepti-nalavade-mahule-sailing-away.html and feel free to leave feedback in the Comments section below it on The Bactrian Room or here below this post.

In keeping with the pattern from previous posts under the Published Work section on my blog and because this is a short one, here is the story in its entirety.

                                                                        Sailing Away

In the gathering dusk, Shantanu sits on the worn-out back door steps of his uncle’s house, absentmindedly flipping through a book that belongs to his cousin when a familiar voice calls out his name from beyond the compound wall. His best friend Nitin hops off his motorcycle and pushes open the creaking gate. 

“Will it be the last time he comes over like this?” The thought flits through Shantanu’s head.  He hastily brushes it off and smiles up at him. 

Six years ago, it was Nitin who had first approached and befriended Shantanu when he was newly admitted to their school. A poor boy who had recently turned orphan, bounced from one relative to the next until he landed up at a reluctant uncle’s place, Shantanu had found himself adrift in the sea of his uncle’s own four children as well as two other nieces overflowing a single crumbling old house in a town far away from his own. Nitin had saved him from drowning, had pulled him ashore by consoling him when his uncle beat him and everyone else barely even noticed or acknowledged his existence. 

Nitin, who had shared his lunch with him, played with him, invited him home, and lent him school textbooks.  Who taught him to ride a motorbike, introduced him to girls and constantly hung out with him.  Nitin, who had given him someone to call his own when he had absolutely no one else. Now after spending almost every waking hour together through college, he might tear himself away, changing time zones and crossing seas. 

After completing first degrees, both of them had applied for and had been offered jobs in the same company in a neighboring city.  But Nitin had wanted to give higher studies a shot. He had applied to five universities in the U.K., out of which he had received rejections for four of them, much to Shantanu’s relief. They both awaited the arrival of the outcome of the final application with increasing anxiety, wishing for opposite results as each day melted into the next.

Now Nitin is walking towards Shantanu with a long envelope in his hand.  It might as well be a ticking time bomb that he is bringing towards his best friend’s hammering heart.

“What have you got there?” Shantanu asks coolly.

“It’s here!” Nitin replies, breaking into an excited grin. “The letter of response from the last remaining university.”

“You haven’t opened it?” He asks Nitin.

“I just picked it up on the way out while coming here.” Nitin replies. Shantanu has a feeling that his friend has waited on purpose to open it in front of him.

“Wish me luck!” Nitin says, carefully tearing open an edge of the envelope and pulling out the document.

Shantanu keeps sitting on the steps, watching Nitin’s face as his eyes hungrily eat up the contents of the letter. The light from a nearby street lamp illuminates his face like a stage and the actors on it – his features – change emotions rapidly from excitement and curiosity to disappointment, then anger and finally sorrow. Shantanu tries to hide a relieved smile as Nitin shakes his head at him. 

“Rejected.”

He gets up and gently pats Nitin’s shoulder. “It’s alright. We…I mean you already have a great job offer in hand.”

Nitin shrugs. “You are right. What did I expect? Getting into a Masters program at such a prestigious university without prior work experience…”  He still looks crestfallen.

Shantanu takes the letter from his hand and reads the dry words informing Nitin of his rejection. Beginning to fold the piece of paper in his hands, he starts walking towards the end of the backyard beyond which flows a dirty canal.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Nitin asks him.

“Wait, just watch.” Shantanu says and keeps folding and turning the paper until Nitin can see a boat emerging out of it. Bending over the short wall separating the house from the canal, he drops the paper boat into the water.

Nitin throws his head back and cackles. “I get it! I get it! You don’t have to be so dramatic!  I’ll let it go.”

They both laugh together but Shantanu is the loudest as they watch the boat sailing farther away, bobbing up and down over the dark water.

                                                                                   *     *     *

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My memories of December 24, 2004

There are some experiences in life that get tied to shockingly big events and that day in December nine years ago stands out starkly from the canvas of blurred background memories. Back then, my father was living and working in Indonesia, with intermittent visits to family in home country India. My mother and sister had together been to Indonesia before but it was my first time as we all traveled on vacation to Indonesia in December 2004.

Indonesia is a shining jewel when it comes to tropical natural beauty and it deserves pages upon pages praising its flora, fauna, climate, geography and people. But it is unfortunate when it comes to location and geological features because of the highest number and levels of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in the world. It will be one of the first countries with land masses that are predicted to go under when sea levels rise due to global warming. But once anyone travels there, these statistics are quickly overshadowed by the wonder one feels at its natural beauty.

My father lived in the city Medan on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. A few hours drive from Medan lies Toba, a massive lake and the site of a supervolcano that was the largest known explosive volcanic eruption on Earth in the last twenty five million years. We were spending that fateful day of December 24 in cottages lining the shores of Lake Toba. We woke up to a nice morning and began to get ready. My sister was taking a shower while my father, mother and I spent time around on the patio in front of the cottage, looking out at the water, the mountains and the scenery beyond. Suddenly, we felt our own selves, the surroundings and the earth begin to sway as if we happened to be sitting in one of those huge boat-shaped rides in amusement parks that swing with increasing momentum from one side to the other. It was such a strange sensation: everyone, collectively, had begun to feel dizzy in spite of feet being planted on solid ground. We clung to door frames and walls for support as what felt like a seismic wave passed through. After it was over, our neighbors, who had also been chilling in their patio and who had sprung up to steady themselves shouted out across to us asking in disbelief if we had experienced the strange phenomenon as well. By then, all of us had recognized that it had been an earthquake that had left no property or life damage in the area we were in but had penetrated our brains to shake our sense of balance. My sister, however, had not noticed anything out of the ordinary and joked that a person is not affected by external events when enclosed in the bathroom, enjoying a good bath.

There were no smart devices and expansive Internet connectivity back then and it was only on the way back to the city that the seriousness of the event slowly dawned upon us. My father’s colleague who had family in Tami Nadu, South India told him via a phone call how the ocean had come in and claimed the land and people along the coast. Although I had read about tsunamis in general before, I could not wrap my head around what exactly had happened until we reached home, turned on the television and gasped at what had occurred. The city of Banda Aceh on the same island of Sumatra that we were on was the closest major city to the epicenter of the earthquake. It bore the maximum brunt of the tsunami originating in the Indian Ocean that struck soon after, proving to be one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history, affecting around fourteen countries. Back in India, phone calls from concerned friends and relatives rang and rang to an empty, locked-up house since my grandmother who lived with us had also gone for a temporary stay with a relative while we were away.

A few days later, it was time for us to leave Indonesia and as we waited at the airport we saw a steady stream of volunteers, soldiers and aid workers flow through. I vividly remember an incident that occurred there. Close to where we were sitting inside the airport was a high-end private lounge meant for privileged members, probably with membership names like ‘gold’ and ‘platinum’. Also near us was a group of strong but tired-looking men in international military uniforms and rescue-jackets with their luggage and aid gear sprawled over chairs and on the floor of the airport. A soldier or an aid worker from among them was strolling about and happened to wander close to the entrance of the lounge without knowing what the place was. Probably looking for something to eat and drink, he seemed to be asking a staff member from the lounge about the place or something related to where he could get food and drink. The staff member may have clarified that the lounge was meant for exclusive people only. The aid worker went back to his group while the staff member hurried inside the lounge. I guessed that he might have had a word with his seniors because when he came out accompanied with a man who looked like a manager, they called out to the soldier who the staff member had met previously and they seemed to be offering the whole group the services of the lounge free of cost. Bowing and smiling, they welcomed and ushered in the uniformed soldiers trooping into the lounge. This gesture of kindness and gratitude from one group of humans in appreciation for the humanitarian work done by another warmed my heart and I locked away what I had witnessed as a reminder of the basic courtesy and goodness that people are capable of.

Years later, as the Internet advanced, I watched innumerable Youtube videos of the tsunami in morbid fascination. But I was also glad about the tsunami warning systems that fell in place as a consequence of the disaster of December 2004. Another time long after, in January 2011, I went on honeymoon to Phuket, Thailand, another place severely affected by the tsunami of 2004. In the cottage at the beach, I lay in bed at night listening to the sound of the waves outside the window and experiencing a moment of terror as I imagined monstrous waves advancing through the dark. Even now, after moving to California, USA, I pause at times to try to listen to the ticking time bomb underneath our feet as we sit on the San Andreas Fault that has been responsible for prior devastating earthquakes in the region.

The forces of nature are truly beyond our power and capable of striking any where and any time at their whim and fancy.

Tsunami and earthquake depiction

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Fun weekends from October

October this year was a month of ordinary yet enjoyable weekends, prompting me to recollect and write about them just for fun.

Gravity film posterIt began with the first Sunday which we decided to spend in a way guaranteed to provide relaxation and enjoyment. Yes, you guessed it right – “dinner followed by a movie”, the most fool-proof (provided the film does not burn holes in your brain and the food does not poison you) of plans ever. Or “movie followed by lunch” in our case, with the film in question being ‘Gravity‘, which definitely lived up to its rave reviews. The special effects were mind-blowing, but it was the way the human aspect of the story unfolded, leaving a cliffhanger at every turn and riding smoothly on the able and spacesuit-padded shoulders of Sandra Bullock, that made it truly engrossing. Scientist Neil DeGrass Tyson later cheerfully ripped it apart but also said that he enjoyed it very much and applauded many of the accurate representations. And we have to file some things under ‘creative liberty’, don’t we? Also, as my hubby, who loved the movie, put it, “they did not misuse 3D technology at all!”

Mango shaved ice

Mango shaved ice

I had binged shamelessly on popcorn throughout the movie and let me tell you, when I am hungry and the wonderful smell of popcorn is all around me in the darkness of the movie theater, I do not just eat it, I literally start shoveling popcorn into my mouth like a crane dumping materials into a pit. So, after the movie, stomach rumbling, (everyone else’s, not mine), all of us friends decided on this Thai restaurant called Mango Garden for lunch. My husband and I had been there once before and had been joyfully taken aback at the free food we had been served. An appetizer and a delicious desert, free of cost! Of course, we returned to that place with more people in tow since the food was good as well. We got the free appetizer and when the bill arrived with no sign of the free desert (with me thinking, how greedy could I have been?), we ordered a bowl of the decadent Mango Shaved Ice that we had lapped up last time. Rich and creamy, soft as snow, drizzled with sweet mango syrup and topped with the chunky fruit. As we leaned back, our stomachs warning our brains not to pile on more food, the waitress placed another large bowl of Shaved Ice – Green Tea, topped with red beans – in front of us and said that it was “on the house” as well. Brain, with eyes popping out, said to Stomach: “you can’t refuse a free offer like that now, can you?”

Litquake panelsOne Saturday afternoon I attended sessions on The Art of the Short Story and The Art of the Novel as part of San Fransisco’s wittily named literature festival ‘Litquake‘. Conducted at the artsy and quaint Z Space Studio were two wonderful panels consisting of published authors who rained upon us showers of wisdom as they spoke about their writing experiences. The moderator quizzed them on thought provoking topics like values that a writer possesses, why most writing revolves around negativity like devastating pain, on writing about life experiences the author himself/herself never had, what the biggest misconception of the writing process was, whether writing was similar to project management, how one comes to know that the written piece really is finished etc. Writing is primarily a solitary process and so it felt good to come out of the den and be around the large number of people at the event who were interested in this craft.

Books on shelfOn yet another Saturday morning I volunteered to assist students at a school with reading as part of Santa Clara University’s Alumni For Others project. Alumni belonging to diverse graduation years gathered in the school library to meet the principal. We were very touched with the warm welcome given by the students’ mothers who had cooked us a breakfast as a way of thanking us. I gleefully followed three spirited girls Joanne, Julisa and Jasmine (the ‘J’ group I called them) to the book shelves and we picked out books. We took turns reading aloud and then they solved quizzes based on what they had read and comprehended on iPhones that were docked at stations for educational purposes. It was so much fun reading with the sweet little girls who  moved through the books with enthusiasm and confidence. Sweet Jasmine even drew a picture of me, cleverly capturing all of the details in my appearance. At the end of the activity the principal and the parents once again thanked us with heartfelt words and colorful paper garlands that had candy hidden in each of their twists and which they lovingly placed around our necks.

The View

The View

Another weekend rolled around to announce post-birthday celebrations for two friends. The venue: The View, a lounge on the thirty-ninth floor of the Marriott Hotel in San Fransisco. We were fortunate to get good seats by a large window at sunset, enabling us to enjoy a splendid view of downtown San Fransisco with a slice of the blue waters of the Bay visible at the corner and the Bay Bridge peeking out between two buildings. Sipping our drinks (two delicious mocktails for me!), cheerful conversations riding on hearty laughter and high pitched voices while the programmed LED lights on the Bay Bridge came on and danced for us (checkout http://thebaylights.org), the evening could not have gone better! Dinner followed at fancy ‘Dosa’, an Indian gourmet restaurant specializing in dosas and idli fries that were to die for. We left for home that night, feeling high on a nice time spent with good company and refreshed for the week that lay ahead.

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Diwali

DiwaliFrom the long-stretching list of religious festivals that India follows, my favorite one is Diwali – the Festival of Lights. It feels more personal and more about people than stone idols and meticulously performed rituals. Of course, there is still an aspect of worship involved wherein the Goddess of wealth is worshiped on Lakshmi Poojan with doors thrown wide open, welcoming her into the home to shower it with her blessings. Also, behind it all is the spirit of celebration of the triumph of good over evil. But compared to other festivals, Diwali feels less tied-down and more like one big happy party! It extends for a maximum of five days, as per what the lunar calendar dictates. Everyone prepares for it eagerly, embarking on a cleaning spree, sprucing up their homes. Unlike other religious commemorations where they may or may not be followed on a grand scale in each and every home, Diwali makes its presence felt in all of them. Appetizing smells waft from kitchens where special food items are prepared to be enjoyed by all with no specific restrictions on when they can be consumed or no notion of fasting. My fondest childhood memories of Diwali are also associated with another kind of smell – the mixture of oil and fragrant powder, which is massaged on to the body before the special bath that is taken on the auspicious dawn of Naraka Chaturdashi. I still remember the pleasant sensation of my favorite aunt’s hard-working, calloused hands that lovingly applied it and that wonderful perfume staying hours after washing it off. Then there was the fun of fireworks. When lighting them, I used to keep pulling out my hand in fear and start to run away even before the firecracker was lit so that I kept doing this multiple times like a cartoon until the wick had caught fire, while the others cackled in amusement behind me. Unforgettable also were the forts my sister and I built and decorated with small statues of the King Shivaji, the people and animals in his kingdom. Sprinkling ‘ahleev’ (Garden Cress) seeds on the moist mud so that they rapidly sprouted green and covered the walls and the grounds of the fort, making it seem more real. Then, sticking lit-up sparklers at the sides to create one awesome display! Now, after all those years, I still feel gleefully immersed in the enthusiasm and goodwill that ride high in the air with people dressing up in their finest, showing off beautiful jewelry and exchanging gifts. Garlands of twinkling electric lights are put up, there are colorful rangolis adorning the ground, fireworks all around, while that special Diwali lantern flaunts itself as the star of the decoration. Painted and decorated little earthen lamps, fed on simple oil wicks, symbolize this bright and shining festival. With their flames flickering and nodding, they seem to be wishing everyone – “Happy Diwali”!

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