Recently my brother got engaged, and post the engagement, we all traveled to his fiancee’s quaint little home town in Jharkhand to meet her extended family’s. Hers is the big Indian family, the kind wherein aunts and uncles and cousins abound. As I watched them, and her, I felt a familiar pang in my heart. Before I knew it, I had traveled four years into the past, to my last trip home as an unmarried girl. It was Diwali.
It was a special vacation, like every other Diwali. And then, it was a bit extra special, because it was to be my last Diwali with my parents and my brother – the next one would be after I got married, to be celebrated with my in-laws. It was as if, this one time, it was less about Diwali, and more about me.
My brother was by my side all the time. We made wreaths of marigold together, while dad hung them at every door. Even these simple moments felt surreal, somehow. Did my brother always do all this work, or did he wake up late and crib about it? He even sat by my side for some time while I made the rangoli, and then made me wear a saree for the Pooja. It’s our last Diwali together, he insisted, the least you can do is wear something nice!
Shiva, the little boy who helps Mom in the house, also played his part. Don’t soil your hands Didi. It’s too heavy for you Didi. Leave this, I will do it, Didi. Leave that too, I will do it. Wait, let me fill up the colours in this design. You just go sit inside, there are too many mosquitoes here. I will do everything, Didi. Was I always such a princess? Maybe Mom won’t really miss me after all, Shiva will do everything for her.
My grandmother, too, called in the morning. Pay attention to the pooja proceedings. She suggested. You would need to do all that by yourself next year.
And aunts called, bhuas and chachis and mamis – Rest up Radha, next year onward it will be all work and no play in your sasuraal. Oh, how would your parents be feeling right now!
I wondered about that too. I am not quite sure about what my Dad felt – he, like me, doesn’t express easily. But Mom, well Mom suddenly needed me everywhere. Is this saree fine? These bangles should go well with the get-up, don’t you think? What are you wearing for the evening? Come, let me show you how we arrange the thali for Pooja. Did you decide what Rangoli you want to draw? We need to change the curtains and the cushions too! Did you decide what you want to wear for the evening? And after the Rangoli is done, you need to put up the diyas outside. How many diyas do you want? I have three plates full of them. And, oh, What are you wearing for the evening?
Was it always the same, I wondered. Did I always draw the Rangoli, and handpick mom’s sarees? Did I always oversee the cushion changing and the curtain hanging? And if I did, who would do it now, in my absence?
Suddenly, it all became overwhelming. There was a lump in my throat, and I felt uneasy. I wanted to cry, to go back in time and relive my Diwalis. I wanted more – more of my house, my family, of Mum’s fussing and Dad’s quiet attentions, of my brother and Shiva and grandmother and aunts. It was so unfair I wanted to cry.
The final straw was the phone call from my fiance’s parents, now my in-laws. They were so excited! We are waiting for you, my father-in-law said. Next year, you would be with us, and already we have imagined how it would be like to have you. It’s been a silent Diwali since Janhavi left, but now you would be here! We are so looking forward to it! I am not, I wanted to tell him, I am not looking forward to your Diwali! But I just tried to smile on the other side. Inside, I was screaming. What of my mother, and my father, and their home? My home? What of my brother, I wanted to ask him, but I stayed silent. Silently my tears flowed, as I nodded and smiled, and tried not to hate the voice on the other end. It had the right to be excited, I told myself. They gave their own daughter away to marriage, didn’t they?
And then, it hit me. Not like a thunderbolt from the outside, but like a sudden flood of understanding from the inside. I realised I could never blame those who wanted a son. Wasn’t it obvious? Sooner or later, daughters just left. With all their smiles and cheers, and their choice of cushions and mummy’s sarees, they left. But sons, they brought another daughter home. To stay.