Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Diwali

My sister and I knew it was that time of year when my dad would get the ladder out in late-October/early-November to put up the Christmas lights or, as he liked to call them, the Diwali lights.  Rather than get excited, we were always worried that our neighbors would think we were "weird" or "crazy" for putting Christmas lights up so early in the year.  When we would voice these concerns, my mom would very bluntly say, "I don't care what these Americans think, it's my Diwali and I will celebrate it!"

As a Hindu-Punjabi family, we would pray at our makeshift temple in the guest bedroom, I would light the incense, my sister would put a tikka (vermillion powder) on each of the gods and goddesses, and we would all sing the Gayatri Mantra together.  And just so we weren't lured towards Christmas, we would receive presents and my mom would say, "See, you receive presents one month early in our culture."  (This was true, but it still sucked when December rolled around and you had to tell your friends that you got your presents a month ago.)

Then in the coming days we would celebrate the holiday with aunties, uncles, and their kids.  We weren't related to any of them, but they became our family in the States.  This newfound family during Diwali was very much like an American family during Thanksgiving or Christmas - same stress levels, screaming kids, food everywhere, and the love, laughter, and joy we felt by sharing a moment in time together.  However, as I grew older and began to accept the fact that I was gay, I began to wonder if these same aunties and uncles would want to continue sharing this holiday with me and my family if they knew about my sexual orientation.

My mom's favorite phrase, "loge kya sochein gaye" (what will people/society say?) comes to mind.  Not only did I worry what these aunties and uncles would think about me, but, more importantly, what they would say about my family if they found out.  Diwali was one such time that I had resolved to stay an eternal bachelor for the sake of myself and my family.

You see, as immigrants, we had worked so hard to create a new family in the United States that we didn't want to lose it all.  These aunties and uncles had become our masis, bhuas, chachus, and mamus.  So coming out of the closet not only meant the possibility of losing friends and family, it also meant losing my culture -- my Diwali -- that I held so dear.

Eventually, I came out of the closet to my family, friends, and... the aunties and uncles.  Although there were a couple bumps along the way (I was expecting much worse!), I received the same love, laughter, and joy that I was afraid of losing.  Looking back, it was moments like Diwali when my family had developed such strong bonds of love with the aunties and uncles that nothing could tear that apart.  They had let the magic of Diwali lights enter in hearts year after year, and I was part of that magic, because it was as much my Diwali as it was theirs.

So, I wish you a khush (happy) Diwali this year and for the years to come.  Always know that you have someone and that moments of darkness will eventually make way for light. -Puesh