Our First Diwali

Yesterday was Diwali.  Diwali is the Hindu new year.  It is also known as the Festival of Lights.  I won’t go into detail about what it’s all about, etc.  But you can read here, if you’re interested.

Growing up, it was a very exciting day for us.  Various aunts and uncles would send gifts to my family – sweets, chocolates, fireworks, whiskey, champagne (for our parents, of course) and all beautifully gift-wrapped.  Of course this meant that my mum (dad had nothing to do with it) was also busy wrapping and sending gifts to their friends and family.

Then there were the fireworks, lighting of diyas and going to parties at friends’ houses.  I remember, one particular year, an aunt sent us a huge jar filled with Smarties.  My sister decided she wanted all the orange ones; and I actually spent time picking them all out for her (and eating the rest myself).  

I never appreciated how much hard work went into the whole production.  It is only after I got married and had to start wrapping (badly) and sending gifts from Hub and I, and organising my own home, that I’ve come to realise how stressful it must have been for my mum for all those years. 

Apart from the gift giving and receiving, we also had to prepare for the Poojas.  These happened at our home and at Hub’s office.  My family were always quite relaxed about it all.  Hub’s parents are a bit more religious and… Gung-ho about everything.  We needed to take an assortment of silver bowls and plates, flowers, prasad (food offered to the deities), rice (uncooked), milk, fruit, coconut, etc.  It isn’t easy to organise!  Luckily, my MIL sorts out most of these things 🙂  She asked me to bring the flowers and the iPod and speakers.  I forgot both.  Oops.

This year was extra special for us.  This was our first Diwali together as a family.  Last year, V was only a few weeks old and we were still in London.  Hub wasn’t able to get away from work to spend it with us.  I was very happy to spend Diwali with both my parents (the first in six years), but we missed Hub.

Usually we do our prayers at home in the evening.  This year I decided we’d do it in the morning.  Apart from getting it out of the way, it meant that V would be fresh from his nap and bath and hopefully enjoy it.  Because it was just three of us, it didn’t take very long.  V was most interested in the uncooked grains of rice and spent most of the time playing with it (and trying to get some in his mouth).  He was also quite mesmerised by the incense sticks!

MIL told us to be at the office by 4.30pm for the Pooja over there.  But of course, as usual, things were running late and we didn’t start until nearly 6pm.  Keeping V entertained wasn’t as difficult as I envisaged.

First he just toddled around and played with the safe.

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He then entertained himself by emptying my wallet and playing with its contents.

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Once we started the Pooja, he lost interest quickly (can’t blame him, really) and desperately wanted to play with the collection of mobile phones sitting on the desk.

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It was time to eat after that – V was quite exhausted by this time but tried some new food and was quite happy 🙂

My parents made sure we enjoyed every Diwali.  Although he is still too young to enjoy the fireworks and gifts (especially the cash gifts), it is my duty to make sure V enjoys all his Diwalis as he’s growing up.

What’s In A Name? I Changed Mine.

Changing your surname when you get married, for some women, is nothing out of the ordinary, right?  Some women choose not to change theirs, and that’s ok too.  But what if you were asked, or told, to change your first name?  I changed my first name when I got married and I’m going to attempt to explain why…

Hindus believe in astrology.  Some strong believers ask their priest (or pandit) to give them the letter with which they will name their newborns.  This is done by checking the precise time of birth against the position of the stars.  (We didn’t do this)  I can’t tell you how it’s done, because I have no idea!

In some families, where there’s going to be a wedding, the stars of the bride and groom are compared to check that the match will be successful.  Some families won’t allow a relationship to go any further if the stars aren’t favourable (yes, it has been done).

And, in some cases (in our community), they say that the initials of the bride and groom don’t ‘go together’ or ‘match’ well.  Which is what I was told by our family pandit.  

My name began with an ‘A’.  Hub’s begins with an ‘N’.  Apparently these two letters don’t go together (if the bride’s name begins with an ‘A’).

I was in Bombay, getting my clothes organised for the wedding and the pandit had come to my grandmother’s house for a prayer ceremony (for my grandfather’s death anniversary).  We were sitting on the floor when he suddenly looked at me and said, ‘You will have to change your name.  Your new name will have to begin with ‘D’.’  I asked him why and he explained that (it’s going to sound strange) the vibrations between us and our names were not even, and changing my name would help make things more balanced.’  

I wasn’t shocked.  I wasn’t horrified.  I wasn’t against it.  

This was not a new custom to me – I had heard of many women that changed their first names when they got married.  My mum didn’t, she didn’t need to.  Neither did my grandmother.  MIL did.  Back in the day, depending on the family you were marrying into, you might not have even had a choice in the matter.  Your in-laws would change your name whether it ‘needed’ to be changed or not.  I’m talking about *choosing* the name as well!

When I spoke with Hub and told him what had been said, he wasn’t happy.  We’d known each other for 10 years, it was going to be difficult.  My in-laws never said I *had* to, but were pleased when I told them I wanted to.

Yes, I wanted to.  Some women, even in our own community, are outraged by the thought and refuse (in this day and age, some women have the option to refuse).

I didn’t want to change it because I wasn’t happy with the name I already had, you understand.  But if someone, who you respect and admire and knows what he’s talking about, tells you it would be better for your marriage, you’re going to listen.  Well, I did anyway.

So I spent the next three months deciding on what my new name was going to be.  I was lucky.  I could choose my own name.  Hub and his parents had some input, but ultimately, it was my choice.  So I chose Dia.  Traditionally spelt, it’s Diya – but I thought I’d be a bit different!

My family and all the people I knew before I got married still call me by my maiden (first) name.  But my in-laws and all of Hub’s family call me Dia.

Some women change their first name – but keep their original first name on all their documentation.  I decided that if I was going to change my name, I was going to do it properly.  It took me a year, but I changed my name by deed poll, changed my passport and bank accounts.

Hub found it really difficult.  For the first three months of our married lives, he called me, ‘Hey’!  I wouldn’t let him call me by my old name!  Eventually, it became more normal for him.

Was it difficult to get used to?  Yes.  I didn’t/don’t always know what to introduce myself as.  Now I use both, depending on who I’m speaking to, or meeting.  I’ve walked down the corridor at school and had the HR manager following me, calling, ‘Dia!’ for ten minutes, and I didn’t realise she was talking to me!

When I was teaching, I’d wake at 5.30am to get ready as the school car would come and pick me up at 6.30am.  One morning, Hub was calling, ‘Dia!  Dia!  Wake up!  It’s 6.30!’  I was in a very deep sleep and had no idea what was going on and the first thing I said was, ‘Who the f*ck is Dia?’  He started laughing and that’s when I jumped out of bed!

So yes, it was difficult to get used to.

But I’m still the same person.  Some have said, ‘But it’s like you’re a whole different person.  You have a different identity.’  

All I can say is, No.  I’m still me.

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