November 17, 2016
Ten years ago, I hosted my first Diwali party. Less than six months after my father’s death, I threw myself into preparations, calling my mom for consultations on the proper way to cook the dishes I’d watched her make, but never made myself, my whole life. I lived in Tucson, Arizona at the time, in my second year of graduate school, and I’ll never forget what it meant to me that my classmates, who I knew in certain ways through their writing but who were strangers to me in other ways, turned up to enthusiastically not just to celebrate a holiday but to bear witness to me as I fumbled my way through grief and an attendant longing to still be engaged in and hopeful about the world.
I couldn’t have guessed, a decade ago, how my annual Diwali party would come to structure and witness so much shared history within the community Jill and I have built for ourselves. Over the years, the celebration has gained significance because of so many attendant life events: marriages, losses, babies, cancer. Each year, we gather together and take stock of what has transpired, making time for gratitude and reaffirming our faith in the power of goodness.
The Carroll/Mehra Diwali celebration has become a truly communal effort, a testament to the ways I have grown and changed, learning to actually ask for—and receive!—help. My friend Maconda makes the most beautiful flower arrangements (even this year, when she couldn’t actually attend the party due to the flu), Megan plays wine fairy, Burke brought candles and napkins, Bonnie toys for the kids, and Greg & Sharon once again served as my last-minute, willing-to-do-whatever-is-needed helpers. I throw the party because it’s tradition, because it is an important part of my identity and culture, because it is a strike in the “hope” column that I so desperately still want to occupy, but it would be worth it to throw the party each year simply to be reminded of the wonderful people who fill my life. In the days since the part, lyrics from a song that I haven’t listened to in years filled my mind: “And I act like I have faith / and like that faith never ends / but I really just have friends.”
Diwali, like all religious holidays, has a powerful story at its core. The villain in the Diwali story is Ravana, who is spoken of in the tradition not as a cosmic demon but rather as a man who achieves demonic status via his greed, arrogance, ego, and lust for power. In the myth, Ravana is eventually slain by the hero Rama, but the arc of Rama’s story includes fourteen years in exile.
In its etymology, exile comes from a root meaning “to wander” and is a derivative of a verb meaning “to take out to the root.” There is something potent for me in that image, of pulling something out of the earth, the way that my mom taught me to weed, not the lazy way—simply tearing at the visible green parts—but to go down into the soil, to get dirt under my fingernails, to pull up under stubborn tendrils, to tug until they gave way. It is exhausting and sometimes back-breaking work. It is slow. Sometimes you have to pull up the same weed over and over and over again.
Maybe we are in exile, in darkness; or perhaps we have always been here and the light is just now being shed on it. Either way, we all have some digging to do.
This year, I served vadouvan spiced cashews, pav bhaji & saag paneer (both made by my mom), Indian-spiced sweet potato latkes (improvised & maybe the hit of the night, served with strained & salted yogurt instead of sour cream), the ever-beloved and oft-requested grilled halloumi, tamarind-glazed lamb meatballs, and mini cardamom-and-rosewater-flavored cakes (adapted from this recipe) and these super-delicious coconut-brown-butter financiers, half of which I dipped in dark chocolate.
PREVIOUS DIWALI PARTIES ON THE BLOG:
*We skipped a year because a bunch of our friends got married all at once! (It was the best possible reason.)
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