Diwali Better Minus The Fireworks

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I've always been afraid of the Big Bang. In some parts of India, Diwali means New Year's Eve - trays of sweets and nights of gambling. In other parts, it's about worshipping the Goddess Kali - both mother and destroyer, midnight blue skin, tongue dripping blood.

Everywhere, it's the night of fireworks.

When I was a child, they terrified me. The streets turned into turf battles between gangs of boys. This was our rite of passage. Who could hold on to the spluttering firecracker till the last possible moment before tossing it out onto the street?

Me? I was the wimp with glasses who flinched every time the boom of dodomas made the windows shudder. I liked the rows of flickering clay lamps that lined the doorways like beads of light ... the rockets that burst in the night sky in a torn necklace of stars ... the fat purple bulbs of Tubris that blossomed into sparkling fountains.

I loved the lights, but not the sound and fury.

The neighborhood boys put on a giant fireworks display. My father, as the neighborhood elder, was always asked to light the first one. The fireplum tree suddenly burst into dazzling golden light, laden with blazing balls of fire, each of which would explode with a boom that shook the balconies.

"One day you'll get to do that," a smiling neighbor told me. I just clenched my teeth and braced myself for the next bang.

Next day the air still smelled of gunpowder. Half-exploded purple tubri bulbs were scattered around the neighborhood like landmines daring me to step on them.

Here in America, my friends invite me for drinks on Diwali ... a Diwali cocktail in a San Francisco bar while the mist creeps in from the Pacific. I go to Diwali parties with the confidence of a cosmopolitan immigrant. Sometimes the kids even burn a few sparklers in the backyard. And as the last dandelion of light splutters away, my friends say, "Next year, I'd love to be in India for Diwali."

I reply, "Me, too."

And for a moment, sipping my glass of Chardonnay, the charred smell of Diwali still clinging to my fingers, I almost believe it.

Commentator Sandip Roy is an editor with New American Media.

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