Saturday, July 20, 2024

How To Celebrate Festivals When You’re Far Away From Home

Living the life of an expat can be hard.

Today is Diwali and I sit here in the Netherlands, feeling lonely and desperate. My morning didn’t start with the sound of a firecracker (oh, it’s still allowed) or a popular song on the loudspeaker.

It’s a regular day here. I haven’t had the time to clean or decorate my house yet, no sweets have been made or ordered. The string lights are still somewhere in the shed and need to be found, untangled, and put up. There is no rangoli anywhere in the house.

No gifts have been bought or exchanged. I had started a tradition of giving small gifts to my neighbors, which I had to stop last year because of the covid situation.

I have been feeling low for the last several days. I feel lonely and less connected, especially during festival time. I wrote how I long to go home for Diwali in this article. It’s been years, over a decade actually that I have not been home for any festival. But I haven’t become accustomed to the not celebrating part yet.

Every Diwali, I watch and rewatch the same advertisements on YouTube that were made for Diwali, year after year. This one from Big Bazaar and this one from Tanishq are my most favorite ones.

It brings back the memories of my childhood in an instant. It makes my longing to go home more desperate, but also gives me a sense of belonging — that I have my roots too, somewhere.

During these special times of the year, going back home suddenly becomes so important. Not that I don’t think of home otherwise, but a special occasion always brings back so many memories. I wonder what I am doing here and ponder if going back home would have been a better idea.

The strange part is, it’s been over 15 long years that I have lived the life of an expat and I still think of myself as an expat. I guess it will always be like this, I will never call any other place my home, and by home I will always mean my childhood city, my childhood home.

What is even stranger, as a child, I wanted to leave home and the city as soon as possible and travel the world. I wanted to see the world and experience it, create memories. As I can see, I was creating memories at that time as well, I wasn’t just aware of that.

Now that I live far away, I feel closer to my roots, to my culture. Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have and always long for something else. Now I have learned to appreciate the little things that I had and I have.

My daughter’s International school is celebrating Diwali — the children are asked to wear festive clothes, and the ones who do not have any Indian or festive clothes are requested to wear anything special from their culture.

Before the lockdown, we, the Indian parents, had organized a Diwali celebration for the entire school with our homemade sweets and savory, collection of Indian dresses with lehengadupattasari, or kurta, and presentations made by the students.

We would bring string lights and diyas from our home and decorate the school. We even arranged for Rangoli. We showed what Diwali is for us and how we celebrate it.

Diwali is quite a popular festival throughout the world. You might be amazed to hear that there is a Diwali Celebration in the Netherlands that is organized not by the Indians but by the Dutch government! Post covid, things are much regulated and we haven’t had the chance to celebrate since last year.

I know people have started letting off fireworks already in India while it’s all quiet here but my mind is there in my childhood street while I am trying to detangle the string lights. I am thinking about what my gift platters for my neighbors would include this year, worrying that we didn’t decide anything on time. My neighbors are already well aware of our Diwali traditions and they know decoration this early means Diwali time.

While I can’t be in my childhood city for the festivals, I am never far away too, because I realized I will always belong to my roots, to my home. For now, I will keep myself busy by lighting candles everywhere so that my home is all lit up, right the way we used to as children.

Thank you for reading and wish you a Happy Diwali.

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