Fresh mango leaves were hung at the entrance of the house, rangoli was drawn on the stone floor, and there were loads of puris for breakfast. Everyone wore new clothes. Firecrackers had begun bursting last night itself, but today they popped with increasing frequency. Diwali had arrived, and with it, lots of sweets and excellent food. Gulab jamun, laddoos, pickles...this was surely as close to heaven as I would ever get. We spent the day driving from one house to the next, tagging along with Naveen as he visited his many, many relatives in Yellandu. Namaste. Introductions, a few smiles....and then Telugu conversation in full swing. I tried to follow the conversation, but that becomes difficult when you only understand one in 10 words. So this is what being a foreigner in your own country feels like.
All in all, I enjoyed meeting his family. All in all, they were like any other family - loving, critical, concerned, and always ready to feed. He had a very cute nephew who loved climbing things; many hours of free entertainment were provided by this child. The remainder of the day was spent watching Telugu television in all its incomprehensible glory. I also watched Godavari again. It had a digitally created dog who was the funniest of all characters. He cursed, was impressively sarcastic, and deeply loyal to his pre-adolescent master. At least the subtitles made him out to be highly amusing.
In the evening we attended a puja at Naveen's uncle's shop. Like most pujas, this one also involved a pundit who muttered shlokas directing the performers of the puja to throw stuff, tie stuff, eat stuff, and so on. I'm sure it had some significance, I just didn't know what it was. What was more exciting was the firecracker gun that Suresh kept shooting close to people's heads in rapid succession, causing my ears to temporarily ring. They had also bought a firecracker consisting of 5000 mini crackers that domino-snapped, with the first one triggering the second one to explode, which triggered the third one, and so on. It was essentially one loud, bright, smoke-filled spectacle of chaos. I loved it.
Earthen Lamps Outside the Shop (Photo Credit: Naveen Ramisetti)
The firecrackers went off all night as phone calls poured in wishing me a Happy Diwali. I was being remembered. That felt nice. As we walked back to Naveen's uncle's home, the streets were littered with popped, exploded, and smoked pieces of cardboard, drained of their explosive properties.