Aarushi Hill '23
Jaldee karo baachas! My mom yells from downstairs, signaling my brother and I to hurry up so we can start the puja. I reluctantly slip on a kurta over my head, trying not to rip the top as the embedded-sequined pattern scratches my face. I put each of my legs into my salwar, adjusting it with the string as it awkwardly sits along my waistline, annoyed, because I hate the way it fits. Lastly, my mom places a bindi on my forehead, only for me to overanalyze whether it’s centered or not in the mirror.
Diwali is a Hindu celebration that commemorates the victory of light over darkness. Many celebrate at night and light incense sticks, known as agarbatti, and walk around their home with them as a ritual part of the puja, or prayer, performed during this celebration. The reason for celebrating within the household with family is to highlight not just the importance of this victory, but also this sense of homecoming afterwards.
Upon starting the puja each year, my mom asks if I want to light the agarbatti and be the one to circle it around the house. I’m sure many kids with divorced or absent parents can relate, but this idea of not having the hallmark picture perfect family can be especially difficult during the holidays, when it seems that everyone else around you does. I know it’s pessimistic to say that my dad’s absence growing up was the extinguisher to my light, but I thought love was supposed to be unconditional, yet he showed me it never persists. Therefore, I wasn’t as inclined to participate in this family-oriented celebration and refused to light the agarbatti.
However, fast forward a few years later, I began to talk less with him and instead focus on spending time with my mom and brother. My mom referred to us as “mismatched puzzle pieces that somehow fit together”. Whether it was making fun of cheesy romance scenes in Bollywood movies or fighting with my brother to take his clothes out of the dryer, I realized I’d rather come home to mismatched puzzle pieces than no one at all. I needed to soak in the smell of sandalwood that permeated throughout my house for my remaining time left before college. Not only did this realization become more apparent for me the older I got, but my appreciation for Diwali has only grown deeper.
This year on Diwali as I wrap my saree around my waist and drape it over my shoulders, I walk to my mom’s room so she can place the bindi on my forehead one last time. This time, looking at my reflection in the mirror, the placement of the bindi is irrelevant. Instead, I see the little girl who thought the darkness would always be her haven. Finally, I light the agarbatti for the first time in seventeen years, followed by walking through each room in the house reciting prayers to bless our home and family. I realized the little girl was just looking for an appreciation for the light all along but couldn’t have found it without navigating her way through the darkness and removing the extinguisher first. Now, I no longer fear this darkness knowing I have a light to come home to. And the way I know I’m home is from the all too familiar smell of sandalwood.