Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The atheist at the festival

What's the etiquette around being an atheist during Diwali or Durga Puja or any of the big Indian festivals? How do you handle it?

I'm not friendly with the neighbours and have no family around who would want me to visit or do something special on a festival. But there's so much minor stuff to deal with, so many ways in which you always feel like an outsider, whether you're an atheist or a religious minority (I assume). Like having to refuse prasad when a kind colleague offers it (I have dietary issues and need to be extremely careful what I put in my mouth). Or wondering if you should dress up in Indian clothes because everyone else is or dress extra casual, just to signal you're not celebrating?

We always stay home, never visit family during the season. We don't want to participate in the rituals, and it would be rude and awkward to be there but refuse to participate. (I have once or twice made an exception for Bihu, because the few God-worship-type rituals around it are easy to avoid: Bihu is mostly about eating and meeting family and buying or gifting clothes.)

In any case, that doesn't matter because if I'm in Mumbai, no one else around me celebrates Bihu, and the two of us aren't home alone wondering if there's something better we should be doing. Even reading or watching TV is difficult because of the noise (I'm not sure which is worse: Diwali crackers or Navratri music).

I have more or less solved Diwali by staying home, lighting candles, and sitting in the balcony for a while to watch others blow up their money in fireworks. (Hey, as long as we can't avoid the pollution and noise and exploitation of workers, might as well enjoy the pretty.)

But sometimes, I wish we had more people to do this with. I think of families gathering and then snuggle closer to my one-person family. Even friends are all too busy with their families at this time. So I guess we'll just go in, turn on Netflix with the volume way up, and decide to make plans with our friends soon, once they are free.

Or maybe this year we could go to Marine Drive and watch the fireworks from there. I've heard it's beautiful.

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