The Festival of Light (2010)

Diwali comes to a northern suburb where trees make way to new millennium homes. The McMansion around us is incomplete. It is opulence unfinished: a lordly manor for the middle-class, but there are no vassals here. Land is not tilled; it is paved and tamed and levelled: bent to human will.

Amidst the palatial rooms, at the foot of twin staircases, celebrations are held. Traditional snacks are served with cautious enthusiasm. Ancient practices are passed through time to briefly live again. Laksmi is welcomed.

An Iranian of indeterminate middle age demurs. Her husband is silent.

They are the faded glory of Cyrus’ great empire.

A girl from Singapore whispers English with an American’s accent. Her face is flustered and ruddy.

The sweet-meats of the hosts are supplemented by a Turkish dish from a guest’s oven. The recipe has survived generations of war and migration.

Sisters from Shepparton shake their heads in unison and hair like curled flame is for a moment wild. They are the daughters of Bodicea or Brian Boru.

They are the descendants of colonial oppression, relaxing in a subconscious self-assurance of alabaster skin and emerald eyes.

The host is desperate for the approval of his guests. He frets and stammers; refills plates that are barely touched. His home is his castle and built by his own hands. The tour is obligatory and detailed. In the prayer room Ganesha smiles wisely from a moment of frozen dance. He holds pride of place over bhagwans and Demi-Gods.

Outside coloured rice is shaped to patterns exotic and arcane. Candles are lit and the air thickens with perfume and incense hidden amongst the gloaming of the day. Lord Rama returns to Ayodhya.

Sparklers are lit from candles and rejoice in their brief moment of life. They say the light is eternal… for sparklers it is not. Soon enough they are inert; only strange shapes of ash in the dirt. So too may we all one day be.

“Ashes to ashes…”

“Illuminate the inner self. Live in Brahman.”

Words echo silently across the gulf of religions.

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