Poem by Karishma Swarup ’19. Art by Maheen Syed ’19.

I sat down to write a poem

describing a festival back home


ten italicized words later,

I realized what it means

to have emotion

“lost in translation”.

you will never know

that a diya

is not just any earthen oil lamp;

it’s like a red terracotta teardrop

with a little dancing flame

and we light fifty

all around the house.

“sacred motifs painted on the floor

using a white paste made from rice powder”

doesn’t capture the charm of


my sisters and I

spend a whole morning

painstakingly creating

paisley-like designs

with our fingers

at the entrance

of our home.

there’s no English words for

batasha, the “dollop of sugar”

or kheel, the “popped rice”

that my dog always eyes

as we lay them out to

offer to the Gods,

and eat only once a year.

how do I describe

the firecrackers?

each one has a specific name –

phool jharis for the sparkling sticks

anars for the little cones that burst

upwards into spectacular

displays of light

or the chakris, which are little discs

that spin as they spew sparks

into perfectly symmetrical wheels;

the adults gather around after dinner

to watch, and children squeal

with delight,

as they use the phool jharis

to ignite the anars.

words don’t suffice

when I have to explain images

of where I come from.

I have to google

English names of things

that I grew up with.

when diwali came round this year

7,798 miles

away from home

I wore ethnic clothes

and people asked why

I said,

“it’s the festival of lights,

that celebrates the triumph

of good over evil,

and marks the beginning of

a new year”.

we would smile at each other

but nobody would understand

that diwali

without my family

and diyas, alpana,

kheel-batasha and phool jharis

was like Christmas

without gifts, stockings, trees,

a hearty meal and family

to enjoy the holidays with.