Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Annette/Ravi: Diwali

God, I've been wanting to finish this for months now! Not leaving for New Year's Eve festivities until it's up!


I've been trying not to freak out about how native Ravi seems to have gone as Gary, telling Jordan that most people try to fit in a lot more than he does after visiting the Inn, but I've got to admit, him not giving me any sort of advice about Diwali is weird. I mean, sure, go right ahead and give a white girl born and raised in one of the most homogeneous parts of the country all the well-deserved crap you want about being ignorant of other cultures, but I'd like to think I'd let someone of a different culture in my body know that Christmas is kind of a big deal, and that I always get my mom fancy chocolates, which is the sort of oversight we're talking about here!

I found out about this whole thing when Kareena calledme up about fifteen minutes after I made that blog entry about her (which had me thinking it was about that and wouldn't that be a thing for a second!), saying my family had called to ask why I wasn't at the house - and we'd get into why I was screening my mother later - because it was Dhanteras and shit needed to be done. I quickly apologized, made some lame excuse, dug out my "how to get to Ravi's folks' house" cheat sheet, and headed in the general direction of Long Island, sending Ravi "hey, what the heck am I supposed to be doing?" emails and texts as well as also trying to swap shifts at work.

It turns out that I should have been helping finish a back deck attached to the Kapoors' house, as a big part of Dhanteras (the first day of Diwali) is finishing up home renovation projects, which is actually a great idea - I suspect a lot of places in the town where I grew up would be a lot nicer if finishing home improvement projects before the family arrives for Thanksgiving was not just a good idea but a cultural imperative! I arrived late enough to just wind up painting, which is good; although I sort of get the idea that Ravi is not necessarily much of a handyman and the curse makes it all but impossible to blow my cover, why deal with a bunch of "you hammer like a little girl?"

Hangin the diyas (lamps) was neat, though, and I loved the rangoli that kareen, Ravi's mother, and his older sister Rekha decorated the front walkway with. Being the only Hindu family in the neighborhood, the Kapoors get a lot of curious neighbors stopping by, but I missed the bulk of that. Which was good, because I had to spend the bulk of the night doing research.

That meant I was really dragging the next morning when they woke me up early for Naraka Chaturdashi, which involves scented oils applied to your head before a bath and a big, early breakfast. And then...

Well, you know how sometimes holidays or other get-togethers become this thing where you have more time than traditions to fill them? It was like that, exacerbated by how Kareena was the only person there I sort of knew. I think that there was some distancet here anyway - Ravi's parents are Hindu people living in America, while Ravi was an American of Hindu ancestry even before I had his skin. Rekha and her mother were talking pregnancy stuff all day, her hsuband Abhishek is not really comfortable in English, and I have not picked up a whole lot of Hindi. It was really a huge relief when Kareena set up the volleyball net - she kicked the butts of all comers, but sports trash-talk is something I can understand, even if I'm the one on the receiving end.

It did sort of force me to get to know Ravi's family a bit; I had been sort of avoiding them for the previous three months. It was weird in more ways than one - I never really knew my father, so I really had no idea what to do with Ravi's, even though I figure that as the two guys in the house they'd be kind of close. But, like I said, he's more of India than America, so he talks about cricket and Bollywood movies and the politics back home, while Ravi appeares to be a baseball and Game of Thrones guy. He's nice, and seems to have plenty of good advice, and Ravi should probably make more of an effort to listen to him when he gets back.

On the other hand, I've always been close to my mom - we weren't quite Gilmore Girls-type friends, but she gave me a lot of latitude, joked with me, invited me along to most anything she did. Maybe Ravi's mother has that sort of relationship with Rekha, but it's not like that with her son. In fact, I felt downright weird, as she would look at Kareena and talk about her like she just saw her as something to be added to her son's life, and that I really should do that faster, despite her being busy at school and Ravi not really being ready to support a family. That's not how my mom would talk about boys with me, and as traditional as she may be, it's not how I expect women to talk about each other. Rekha would intervene on my behalf, but that would turn into pregnancy talk within minutes.

Still, there was a nice meal and fireworks at the end of the day.

The third day was the big one - Lakshmi Puja. It was my first time dressing up in traditional Indian clothes - Kareena had made sure I had a new one - and a lot of friends of the family visited. Much Hindi was spoken, and I suspect some seventy-five percent was wondering why I wasn't married to Kareena yet. Eventually, though, it was just "the family" (including Kareena), and it was kind of amazing even when I didn't understand it. There were a lot more lamps and floor decorations, a ritual that I stumbled through phonetically, and more fireworks. Then, there was a big family dinner, and for all that I may not feel a great connection to Mrs. Kapoor, she made one hell of a spread. Remind me to find good Indian places when I'm myself again.

Sunday was kind of a respite. Padwa is meant to be celebrate marriage - it's kind of like everyone's anniversary - and while a much of the previous days were spent with people treating Kareena and I like we were already married, things got much more casual once we went off on our own and left Ravi's parents and Rekha & Abhishek to their own devices. I saw my first Bollywood movie that day - Happy New Year - and that was something else. Kareena seemed to really like Shah Rukh Khan, and I must admit that he's not terrible on the eyes (nor is Deepika Padkukone). We had a nice dinner, and then went back home after a pretty chaste kiss.

Monday was the last day, Bhai Duj, and that was kind of weird for me. It involved visiting Rekha and a couple of rituals - she did this "aarti" prayer for me, and put a red mark on my forehead - before she made me a really nice meal made up of Ravi's favorites and... Well, I didn't have to do anything but bring her a present. I probably wouldn't give it a second thought if I'd been born Hindu, or even if I was born a man, but it felt really unbalanced, especially since she was six months pregnant and doing all this stuff to bless "me".

Still, it was nice to have some "brother-sister" time. She's a little more into the traditions than Ravi is, but if she was still raised here, so her accent isn't "foreign" and she sort of gets Ravi's situation with Kareena. Marriages aren't really "arranged" in India any more - what looks that way to outsiders is actually much closer to a dating service - but Ravi's and Kareena's respective families have sort of been keeping them in mind for each other since they were very small children, and I gather it's been comfortable - they were pen pals, she came to New York to go to college - but maybe a little too comfortable in some ways. Rekha said that it's great that we were such good friends with our own things, but a good fuckbuddy is not necessarily a good spouse.

(I was a little bit too surprised by "fuckbuddy" suddenly appearing inside the rest of the talk to correct her.)

She was also worried about how her brother was still working retail despite graduating college a couple years earlier, even in a lousy economy, and I reassured her a bit by truthfully saying that I hadn't found an opportunity that really spoke to me in "my" chosen field. She understood, mostly. I kind of get the impression that having settled into her own grown-up life - professional job, marriage, kid on the way - she sees her brother lagging behind and wants to know what's up with it. Fair, I guess, but I kind of figure that my saying I wasn't quite ready for all that was when I best channeled Ravi over the whole festival.


And speaking of Ravi, I only heard from him sporadically during those five days, which makes me kind of sad. I suspect that I only absorbed some small percentage of what I could have (Hindu folks, please feel free to correct what I've misremembered and misinterpreted), but so much was amazing and beautiful that I couldn't see how he could apparently skip it so nonchalantly. Maybe he's similarly excited by his new experiences in Judaism, but, still, he's got a pretty nice family, even if I needed more than a few highly scheduled days to connect with them. Seems like it should have been a bigger deal, is all.

But speaking of big deal event, I've got one to run to now with Kareena - apparently some of her med school buddies throw one I'm not supposed to miss!

-Annette

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