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Let the lights guide you home

Diwali leads us to that place where we learn to become one with the self and the world

Written by Suvir Saran |
October 31, 2021 6:20:18 am
suvir saranDiwali is the light and the path that leads us home (Source: Suvir Saran)

If COVID-19 is the darkness that has challenged all of us in the past many months, then Diwali comes with positive reinforcement about what life really is. And how blessings can come our way when dealing with the pandemic, or feeling alive.

We are creatures of habit, and comfort lies in keeping things predictable, in not being open to new learning and discovery. The Diwali story teaches us to engage with the self and those we call family and friends, and to reach out to others. Its lessons are not just in-person exchanges, but are possible virtually as well. Whether we are broken by COVID or discovering ourselves for the first time because of novel challenges, Diwali gives us all a chance to bring illumined thinking to the fore.

In my own COVID darkness, even when I was completely alone in quarantine, I knew my family was waiting and watching, and that I would come out at the other end and experience their love and comfort in person again. But during the worst of my pain, I was momentarily gripped by fear and loneliness, by emotions and mortality. I lost my connection to my real being, that soul inside of me, my consciousness, my breath, my sanctum sanctorum. And then, I thought of the ebony-dark 15th day of Diwali — the night of Lakshmi Puja. That moment when we light lamps with hopes of driving away lugubrious thoughts and replacing it with enlightenment. It was this and other memories of Diwali, and the lessons I’ve learnt from my elders over the years, that brought me home to hope and living.

Firecrackers and noisemakers — who would think that anything positive could come from polluting the already polluted air? When confronted with this question, my parents taught me that firecrackers and noisemakers bring us to an awakening and acceptance of the other and our place in this shared world. They taught me about long silences and cacophonous moments and that, with both, we have to learn to make our peace.
Of course, there is only so much time that anybody with a thinking brain can spend outside in the smoggy Delhi night, and being indoors is where we all celebrate and connect with during Diwali. Food, gossip, teasing, singing, making merry and card games seem to occupy our minds happily.

When I asked my dadi what role gambling played during Diwali, she smiled, brought me close, and said, “Smart one, you think I will be befuddled by this question? Think again. Here, too, our traditions come with a life lesson. Win or lose, while gambling, you learn about taking risks. You might have to bluff and utter a white lie; you have to make do with what you have. With mindful attention and careful planning, you might expand your reach, but the best come to it with a commitment to act and change the environment around them.”

On the 17th day of Diwali, after we have settled back into our lives and made peace with who we are and what our lot in life really is, we again are called into action. Bhai Dooj is the day when a brother visits his sister to ensure that all is comfortable in her world. When I asked my nani why our family observed this festival with a daylong celebration of the bonds between siblings and relatives, she waxed poetic about how it is a lesson in sharing and caring, living and loving, and the acceptance of our life no matter what we might be living through at any given moment. In our coming together, we learn about the protean act that is a lifetime. Good or bad harvest, rich or poor finances, the happiness or sadness of any given moment, our fortunes of luck and love are out of our control. To be happy, we must find contentment — and not the material hunger for more — and let that be our driving force.

Dadi and nani gave me broad and lofty lessons for my young brain. Over three decades, after conversations with these grandmothers, I can reflect, appreciate and comprehend their storytelling. I’m most grateful for their words, but it was the back porch that called me then and in which I still find peerless joy. On that porch, my mother would work tirelessly to make an altar with grains, sweets, incense and oil lamps. She created beautiful, elaborate rangoli on the floor and placed countless candles and oil lamps within the pattern that enhanced the colours and made the shapes dance in the golden light. She placed multicoloured plants and flower arrangements around the rangoli to make it even more festive. From her amazing, beautifully circuitous and repetitive patterns, I learnt about the ups and downs of life, the complexity of our journey and existence, and how these festivals and customs connect us to our familial and individual past and to our hopes for future years. Diwali is about coming a full circle and yet always going forward.

When I remember these lessons of Diwali, I remember that home is where the heart is, and the heart is at home when one is at peace with oneself. We are not separated from one another when we are connected. Home is deep inside us, not grounded in a GPS location. It is a connection between mind and soul. If we have that connection working, and are feeding our soul with the nourishment of mindfulness, then we are at home and at peace with self, and at peace with the world at large. When the plumbing between our brain and our soul has a fluid passage, it is then that we live with a socio-emotional connect that is at once purposeful and fulfilling. We feel at home wherever we are, and even when all alone.

Diwali and its many stories shared by my family through our culture, tradition, rituals, took me beyond dogma, enlightened my soul, and brought me back to my inner core, to my home. A sometimes-dark place, mostly elusive and never fully comprehensible, it is that place to where, when I am anchored, my life has no more questions. Answers abound, possibilities seem endless. Hope is its currency, love its intrinsic nature, and trusting the self and others de rigueur.

Whether eating, praying, gambling, lighting firecrackers, or being sick with or of COVID, Diwali is the light and the path that leads us home to that place where we learn to become one with the self and the world. What greater pleasure could one wish for?

Happy Diwali and enlightenment to all!

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