It's November in Mumbai, and the first winter I have spent away from home in Delhi. Of course, the weather here in this tropical city is quite deceptive. It's "second summer", my Bombay friends tell me, a season resembling May or June. We have our airconditioners on in our cars and in our bedrooms; we seek cool spaces; it's too unbearably humid to even wear jeans, so we stick to cotton skirts or shorts, the more minimalistic the clothing the better.
I was having a typical Bombay versus Delhi discussion the other day. Ten months into the city and it's getting harder and harder for me to take sides. This was a what-does-Delhi-have-that-Bombay-doesn't debate, and because Delhi is always underrepresented in these things, I jumped into the fray. "Winter," I said, snappily, "Delhi has winter." The table--two Delhi exiles, one Delhiite visiting Bombay, one occasional Delhi visitor--grew silent and wistful, imagining Delhi winter, imagining the crisp smell of woodsmoke and smog and the necessity of wearing sweaters. In Bombay, they improvise winter as they do many other things. Walking down a road the other day I passed two people sitting around a small bonfire. In January, people pull out jackets and monkey caps, pulling the wool securely over their ears, even though elsewhere in the planet, this would be lovely tropical weather.
Anyway, the reason I'm thinking and talking about November in a new city is because over the last couple of weeks, more and more people have been asking me what my plans are for Diwali. Besides being the first winter I've spent away from home, this is also the first Diwali I'll be spending family-less. Except for one Diwali in boarding school, where everyone was in the same boat you were and no one got to go home anyway, so you made the most of it.
At home, even though we were never a very traditional family, we made sure we did something for Diwali. We always lit the diyas for instance, all over the house. I dressed up and lit them, when I got too old and too politically correct for firecrackers. (Although I'd still go up to the roof of our apartment complex and look at the shiny explosions in the sky). There were at least five cards parties leading up to the big day--all strangely identical, with white sheets on the floor and kebabs and many people looking extraordinarily serious. I only played at the very low stakes table and occasionally our giggles would interrupt the other people losing lots of money, making them look cross.
My friends here are divided between the ones who have families in Bombay and the ones who are returning to their homes to celebrate. What do you do when you're single and alone in a new city during festive season? You either invite yourself to be part of a friend's family celebration, or you sit at home watching Diwali specials on TV and order a pizza. Both don't sound like the kind of options I'd like to explore--pizza and TV is depressing when you can hear the sounds of people celebrating all around you and no matter how much your friends like you, Diwali may be too intimate a time for you to intrude. Therefore, for me, it is secret Option C. Gather around the rest of the nomads, the ones who aren't going "home", get together pot luck or order in biryani, contribute wine and make Diwali happen with your new impromptu families. Home is where the lights are.