Hindu For A Day


This blog entry about the events of Thursday, November 11, 2004 was originally posted on November 17, 2004.

DAY 390:  Despite the mass commercialization of the Christian holiday of Christmas, with its holiday songs, plastic lawn ornaments (that look absolutely awful if there’s no snow on the ground), and disgruntled mall Santas with sore thighs from the constant kids on their laps asking for things they probably don’t deserve, a small minority still remembers that at its core, Christmas is a religious affair, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  Churches around the world get a surge in attendance on December 25th more than on any other day of the year.

Diwali, as commercial as it has become with its holiday movies, gift giving and fireworks, is a religious holiday of the Hindu faith, a celebration of the return of Lord Rama (incarnation of Vishnu) after defeating the dark king Ravana of Sri Lanka and returning to India with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.  The candles of this “Festival of Lights” are lit as a symbol of leading Rama and Lakshmi back home, and the decorations and powdered rangoli paintings on the porches are intended to welcome Lakshmi into the house so that perhaps she will rub off a little of that wealth to those who dwell inside.  Doors and windows are left open during Diwali to let the prosperity come in.

Another way to invite Lakshmi into the home is to perform puja, a prayer and offering ceremony.  The second day of Diwali is the day to do just that, in hopes of inviting good fortune in the new year.  Now I’d been raised Catholic so I didn’t really know the procedures of a puja, but I was soon to find out, and on an important Hindu holiday no less.  (Hindu readers:  most of this you probably know already; you may continue reading or excuse yourself and go play Solitaire now.)

CUCKOO’S HOUSEHOLD WASN’T A FULLY PRACTICING HINDU ONE (she was raised Christian), but we were invited by the Maheshwari family next door to attend their puja.  Nandu was off working his obligatory morning shift, leaving the remaining three of us to join Pradeep, his wife Deepti and daughters Aksheta and Anjali that day. 

Vineet was in the kitchen playing with matches as I got ready after breakfast, and Cuckoo surprised us both when she came into the room, not wearing her regular modern clothes but a traditional sari.

“You look beautiful, Auntie,” Anjali complimented to Cuckoo when she and her sister ran into the room.  The surprises didn’t stop there.  “Happy Diwali!” the girls greeted me, handing me a gift.

“Thanks!  Happy Diwali!”  (It was a sack of pistachio nuts wrapped daintily in orange cellophane and a red ribbon.)  Aw, you shouldn’t have.

We piled in Pradeep’s Hyundai — I sat in the front with Vineet on my lap while all the girls piled in the back — and drove not to a Hindu temple, but to his office, an appropriate and common place for a puja performed specifically to encourage wealth and prosperity.  Pradeep ran a lucrative corrugated cardboard company from a location not too far from home that managed a factory about 300 km. away.  In the lobby of the office the puja was just beginning with a pandit chanting in front of one of Pradeep’s employees and his wife. 

The kids and I were led to the office in the back to wait while someone placed another blanket on the floor for us to sit and join in.  (It was sort of like being led to the kiddie table on Thanksgiving, which I never really mind since I still enjoy the juvenile humor of fart jokes.)  Vineet, Aksheta and Anjali took turns sitting in the big office chair behind the desk, pretending to be the big boss, for the lens of my camera.

“I’m the vice president,” Anjali said. 

“You can be the vice president.  I am the chairman,” Vineet said, still wearing the Kawasaki motorcycle jacket he got for Diwali.

WE SAT BEHIND THE COUPLE performing the puja, giving offerings to a small shrine on the floor with images of Lakshmi and other Hindu deities, such as monkey-faced Hanuman.  The girls attentively looked on while Cuckoo and Deepti explained to me everything that was happening.  Meanwhile, Vineet was playing with matches (without lighting them).

“They are spreading the rice around as an offering,” Deepti explained.  “The rice is very auspicious.  [It will bring food.]”  The couple in front of us adorned the shrine with rice and flowers, and placed clothes as an offering.  The pandit chanted in an ancient spoken Sanskrit that no one in the room could understand.  Deepti told me that when the pandit recited all the ancient Sanskrit prayers in his life, he would achieve sainthood.

Deepti continued her explanation of Diwali as the puja remained in progress.  “We keep the doors and windows open in the home to welcome Lakshmi.  We believe that she can come at any time in any form, like a cat, or a guest,” she said.

A guest?  Was it possible that they believed that I was this year’s embodiment of the goddess of wealth, who had conveniently arrived unexpectedly into their lives in time for Diwali?

The puja continued with more Sanskrit chants, more offerings, the blowing of a conch shell, and an individual waving of a plate of fire and other assorted goodies for Lakshmi as an offertory gesture.  The pandit blessed each of us by wrapping holy thread around our wrists like bracelets, adorning us with the tika on the forehead (followed by rice), and feeding us a sweet concoction of milk and sugar (and other things I forgot) in the palm of our hands, followed by a coconut cookie-type morsel.  Sweets on Diwali were another auspicious thing.

AFTER THE OFFICIAL PUJA WAS OVER, Pradeep had meet sit in front of the shrine (picture above) so that I might have a go at the Hindu ceremony.  “Do you want Lakshmi to bring you wealth?” he asked.

“Uh, sure.”

He led me through the offerings of auspicious elements and the adorning of the tika on images of Lakshmi, Hanuman and the other deities with the red ointment I had just had been adorned with on my forehead.  Cuckoo went from press reporter to press photographer and shot the event for me. 

After being Hindu for a day, I joined the rest in the back office for a catered meal of Indian vegetarian finger foods.  Vineet was still trying to play with matches and Aksheta vomited for some reason.  Ah, the joys of childhood.  As fun as it was, the day was going by fast and I had to get back to Mumbai to catch my train.  I thanked Pradeep for his invitation to their sacred event — who knows what sort of prosperity would have come out of the swapping of our e-mail addresses?

I posed for one last picture with my extended host family in Thane, rushed back to the apartment with Cuckoo and boarded the commuter train back into the city.  The commuter trains were on the honor system in that you are supposed to have a ticket or pass on you, but checks were seldom and random.  We were in such a rush to get a train back to Mumbai before my train to Chennai that we just hopped on the next departing train.  Luckily no one checked our tickets — perhaps in the spirit of the holiday.

“Are you usually good with kids?” Cuckoo asked me on the way back to VT Station. 

“Yeah. I think because I still see myself as one.”

“The girls told me to tell you not to go.  They didn’t want you to leave.” 

I suppose, being the form of Lakshmi or not being the form of Lakshmi, my surprise presence in Thane on Diwali 2004 had an effect on people.  Just like with the ZEHRP crew in Lusaka, Zambia, the expats in Moshi, Tanzania, the Raichelsons in Hong Kong, and Liz and Hiroshi in Tokyo, my presence at the very least stirred things up in the normal routine.  As Shelle in Zambia and Tony in Moshi both put it, “It’s nice to have a fresh face.”

CUCKOO DROPPED ME OFF AT MY PLATFORM before she headed back to the office to write her next daily piece for The Economic Times.  “Thanks for inviting me,” I said, still wearing my tika on the forehead.  “I think it’s been the highlight of my trip to India so far.”

“I’ll be following you on the web,” she said.  We said our goodbyes and parted ways.  I boarded my second-class air-conditioned sleeper car for the 26-hour overnight train across the country to Chennai on the southeast coast of India.  The train took me farther and farther away from my extended host family, but I still had the neatly-packaged bag of pistachios the girls gave me to remember them by.  It was the first Diwali gift I’d ever received — “Happy Diwali” indeed.

Next entry: Family to Family

Previous entry: Holiday For Pyros

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Hindu For A Day”

  • Cuckooo… wow - I had never seen you in a sari before. And now I have. Mr. E thanks for this pic!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/17  at  11:16 AM

  • Looks like you had a really cool Diwali experience with your adopted family.  India steadily moving up my list of places to visit…keep up the good work and stay safe.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/17  at  01:17 PM

  • FYI: The commuter trains in Toronto are also on the honour system.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/17  at  01:56 PM

  • I’ve actually rode amtrak from Route 128 boston to new york w/o being asked for a ticket! but i was honest and gave it up b4 i left the train….

    Diwali Rocks!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/17  at  06:01 PM

  • I love the sand paintings, candles and flowers, etc.  I knew absolutely nothing about that holiday until reading this.  It’s cool! I think us Americans have the tackiest holiday decorations of all, haha.  You are right, when there’s no snow they look even worse!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/17  at  06:08 PM

  • You can get away with it on the TRAMS in Amsterdam also ... hahaha

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/17  at  08:20 PM

  • Berlin’s city trains are also on the honor system… AND you can drink beer!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/18  at  05:06 AM

  • Believe me - I know about tacky Christmas decorations w/o snow… I saw the giant snowman from the new Tim Allen movie - CHRISTMAS WITH THE CRANKS - the other day outside the studio that is putting it out. Very odd and very tacky. smile Trains? What are those? So few of them here in LA…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/19  at  03:08 PM

back to top of page


Follow The Global Trip on Twitter
Follow The Global Trip in Instagram
Become a TGT Fan on Facebook
Subscribe to the RSS Feed

This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
Family to Family

Previous entry:
Holiday For Pyros


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

Spelling or grammar error? A picture not loading properly? Help keep this blog as good as it can be by reporting bugs.

The views and opinions written on The Global Trip blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official views and opinions of the any affiliated publications.
All written and photographic content is copyright 2002-2014 by Erik R. Trinidad (unless otherwise noted). "The Global Trip" and "swirl ball" logos are service marks of Erik R. Trinidad.
TheGlobalTrip.com v.3.7 is powered by Expression Engine v3.5.5.