Rashida Murphy: Sab Ki Diwali

Rashida Murphy reading ‘Sab ki Diwali’

My nephew was born during Diwali
every dhamaka
of every phataka
rumbled through his body
like an earthquake,
and he couldn’t sleep

Years later, another Diwali
another birth
At dawn my mother rose from namaz
to hear my daughter’s first cry
What shall we name her, she asked
meri jaano jigar, meri baade sabah?

Diwali didn’t always
herald birth in my family
my brother once set fire to a cane palm
with lit phuljaris
and stubbed mombattis
We smouldered for days

Before our children interrupted Diwali
our mother bought us payals and kangans
and toe-rings
in chaandi
to appease a goddess
she didn’t believe in

Now, that girl born at Diwali dawn
wears chaandi and khadi
and names her cat Tulsi
What was it like, she asks
growing up where
everyone celebrated everything?

Notes and Glossary

The Hindu festival of Diwali is celebrated to honour the return of Lord Ram from exile. It is typically celebrated with the lighting of lamps and candles and is also known as the Festival of Lights. Silver and gold jewellery is bought to mark the festivities and appease the Goddess of Wealth.

Sab Ki Diwali – Everyone’s Festival of Lights
dhamaka – Explosion
phataka – Firecracker
namaz – Muslim prayer
meri jaano jigar – Endearment, loosely meaning heart of my heart
meri baade sabah – A line of poetry, meaning early morning breeze; Sabah is also used as a name
phuljaris – Sparklers
mombattis – Candles
chaandi – Silver
payals – Anklets
kangans – Bangles
khadi – Coarse cotton
tulsi – Sacred herb (basil), also used as a name

Rashida Murphy is a Perth-based writer and the author of The Historian’s Daughter (UWA Publishing, 2016). She is an Adjunct at Edith Cowan University. She runs workshops on writing at various writers centres and writes about identity and appropriation. Her poems, short stories and essays have appeared in national and international journals and anthologies.

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