Diwali gives me a headache

Diwali ferris wheel - Udaipur, India
Diwali ferris wheel in Udaipur, India | Photo by Lauren Girardin

“Rides and attractions! Non-stop action! Folks, animals, fireworks too. It’s the single most fun thing you can do!!”

This hokey siren song got stuck in my head during Diwali, a multi-day holiday celebrated throughout India. New Yorkers who weren’t off at sleep-away camp will recognize the lyrics from commercials for the Westchester County Fair, ads that repeated relentlessly every summer on local TV stations.

Apparently, my brain could dredge up no more appropriate a theme to latch onto as Todd and I maneuvered through throngs of small-town Rajasthani families who’d flocked to the relatively big city of Udaipur (“Folks!”); stepped around doorway idols sculpted from fresh cow dung (“Animals!”); and dodged flaming crackers tossed into the narrow streets and sometimes directly at tourists (“Fireworks!”). All this and more in celebration of the Hindu Festival of Lights, the holiday equivalent of those exasperating birthday cake candles you can’t blow out. Between the county fair ditty and the constantly booming crackers, I had a persistent headache for the many days of Diwali.

Diwali cow dung idol - Pushkar, India
Cow dung idol in India | Photo by Lauren Girardin

Besides the similarity to county fairs in the U. S. of A., Diwali reminded me of a frightening Fourth of July that Todd and I spent in Occidental, California with several close friends. As we stood on the small town’s main street, crowds of drunken local yokels flung fireworks every which way, heedless of the direction they’d take or damage they’d inflict. Baby carriages, old people, buildings, dry brush, and eyeballs be dammed!

Or perhaps Diwali was most like the many Fourth of Julys that Todd and I have spent in San Francisco’s Mission District, where from any perch overlooking the neighborhood you can watch fireworks burst anonymously from backyards and rooftops, sounding too much like the violent climax of a gang war between the Sureños and Norteños.

Diwali store display - Udaipur, India
Colorful store for turbans and more | Photo by Lauren Girardin

Diwali wasn’t all crackers and cow dung idols. As we wandered around Udaipur, strangers lounging in propped open doorways would rush over to us to share a piece of barfi, a wonderful sweet made from boiled down milk and sugar, and wish us a “Sup Diwali!” Strands of lights hung from every building and temple, and entire blocks were closed to traffic, joyfully if garishly lit with fluorescent light tubes and covered with sparkly silver garland.

And of course, there was the fairground where, for just a fistful of rupees, you could risk your life on a rickety ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl, or go-kart track, all hastily assembled in time for the holiday.