Last year for the first time I sent out a Diwali message and it was surprisingly well received. I include it as an attachment below. It focused on my childhood and a special brown suitcase full of firecrackers. But there was another aspect of Diwali, which as a youngster I thought of as a chore and did only because it needed to be done . It has become a lot more relevant and meaningful in my advancing years . So much so that in certain ways it has created a self selecting personal network for me which I value and cherish.
When we were young , after we had exhausted both ourselves and the contents of that brown suitcase, there was always a sense of despondency . It would be another year before we would get that same thrill. Why could we not do Diwali every week? But we knew that would not happen. So what next ? Lunch was good. But after that what? Oh no. We would have to go to all the homes of our relatives and friends and pay our respect to the “old” people.
These visits which often coincided with visits of assorted cousins and friends often created a mini traffic jam in the space in front of the Elder(s) we had all come to visit. This was the space used to prostrate ourselves in front of the elder to receive his or her blessings. I used to think that some popular elders who got continuous visits just took up a position and held it all day.
Men and boys needed more space because we had to prostrate fully, lying flat on the ground on our stomach with our hands stretched towards the feet of the Elder. Women and girls got away with the short form kneeling or “question mark?” position. I used to envy my Bengali counterparts who just bent down and touched the feet of the elder. That was a quick in and out.
Depending on how old the Elder was or how much more respect you wanted to show , this Namaskaram could be one prostration or multiple ones. One way to keep fit. There would even be unstated competitions among us to see who showed more respect and whether that led to an extra toffee , banana or money which sometimes was the gift from the Elder. Needless to say Elders who gave gifts got extra attention and earlier visits to make sure their largesse was not exhausted on other less deserving persons.
As I reflect back on rituals during Diwali , I now see what my parents and other parents were inculcating in us , their children, from that early age. It was not just respect or obeisance to age but a statement of thanks for being part of our lives and those dear to us for longer than others. It was acceptance that they had touched and influenced our lives in some ways which we perhaps could not even recognize let alone appreciate. For one grand uncle it was perhaps thanks for the job he gave my father which was the foundation of our financial wellbeing . For another Grand uncle and aunt it was perhaps thanks for becoming the surrogate parents to my mother who had lost her own. For another Elder it was perhaps thanks for treating us as their children because they had none of their own. For another it was because without them my constant companions and friends would not have been part of my life. It appears rational now and I wish I had done the visits, at least some of them, with more grace . But at that time it still was a chore .
Later in life , actually the year before she passed away , my mother(Amma) commented on my hectic travel and other schedules. She did not ask me to stop but to “include the people who had been part of my life and who no longer may be in the orbit of my current ecosystem” . She was always wise, my mother . She was reminding me to be grounded in the realization that our success in life is due to more than just our efforts. Many people are part of it. Some like close family continue to be part of it. But many we forget because it takes too much time away from other “more important” things or we think we have outgrown them. Often we rationalize it because they do not fit into our current lifestyle or status. Some we do more cynically because they are no longer of use to us. Not only do we not acknowledge these relationships from our past ,we actively ignore them.
So Amma would have been very happy that this month of Diwali I will have visited with the two oldest members of our family both into their 90s and living in Bangalore and Chennai respectively and met my cousins in those cities. I went to the UK and stayed with and had a long walk in Derbyshire with my sister in law and her husband . I had dinner and/or lunch in Manchester with five of my closest friends and their wives ( equally close)from my time in the UK from the 1970s. I visited with my now 101 years old ( today) secretary from my KPMG Manchester days. She is still feisty as I declined a glass of sherry in her Retirement home in Cheshire. I spent time in Silicon Valley and Mumbai with three close friends from my childhood in Calcutta whom I have known and remained in touch with for over 50 years. I spent a few days in Singapore with close friends from my KPMG India days . I attended the first birthday of the son of a dear friend and ex colleague in Oakland along with other colleagues. I met with ex Board colleagues and friends from Infosys at the Founders Celebration event. I spent an evening with ex colleagues from Cooper Cos where I learnt so much about the US tax system. I had dinner with current and ex Fellows and staff from the AIF Clinton Fellowship which has been such a large part of my life these past several years . I met or connected to other friends who I had not seen for some time. All connections to every decade of my life.
So this Diwali I want to thank all of you who have been and continue to be part of my life as individuals and groups. Finding time to remain in touch with you is no longer a chore. I may not get around to all of you as often as I should but you will always be part of the context of my life. The slight detours necessitated by my interactions with you will continue to be some of the most rewarding part of my life.
But we all know time is finite.