Dear Extended Family,

We don’t meet for months because living in two corners of a metropolitan city is almost like living in two different time zones. The only phone calls we make are on birthdays or report card days. We don’t have many traditions that make our hearts smile.

But every year, when the quiet buzz of festivity rolls around, we pack our suitcases with ribboned boxes of sweets and take off to a little coffee plantation 150 miles away. We make the 8 hour drive, someone (usually me) pulling out their camera and stopping to capture the foggy state highway every 2 minutes, mother complaining the whole time. We crunch on honey toast and family gossip, turn the stereo up and the windows down and watch tech parks turn into windmills in lush green fields.

When we finally reach, the house welcomes us with open arms and a tray of lime juice. Muddy shoes are thrown under a bench, tired bodies collapse into couches, the place is soon filled with warmth and laughter and twinkle-eyed baby cousins.

It is the only time I sit down at a dinner table and have a meal surrounded by my whole family, gravy bowls being passed around, uncle-who-lives-abroad screaming for a fork. The next two days turn all of us into religious South Indians preparing for the biggest festival of the year. We thread jasmine flowers into garlands, wash and clean banana leaves, stir big pots of payasam, light clay diyas to place on our doorstep and stain our hands with rangoli powder. The men sneak in a card game or two while the children play badminton in the drying yard, eyeing the large cardboard boxes filled to the brim with crackers.

When the light outside dims, we put on our brand new kurtas and finely embroidered salwars and come together in the midst of ringing bells, whispered mantras and burning incense sticks. A large plate of sweets is passed around, breaking all our dinnertime rules.

The cardboard boxes are finally ripped open and we watch the sky explode into blue and red sparks. My favorite part isn’t the firecrackers, though. It is watching the lines of worry disappear from faces brightly lit by a sea of sparklers, waves of happiness washing over all of us.

With every passing year, diwali holidays were replaced by tests to study for and work projects to hand in. Our band of tradition-keepers grew smaller. This year will be my first diwali away from home, with Netflix and cheese nachos and no sweets. But I promise you one thing: I will wear my new silk salwar, light a set of diyas for my doorstep and watch out for blue and red sparks in the sky.

A former tradition-keeper

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