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Humans of the Embassy
Humans of the Embassy: Navitha Meethala (Deepavali Special)
November 28, 2023

The smell of incense wafts through the air and Navitha’s feet can be heard echoing through the halls of the temple. It’s Deepavali and she’s racing to catch the decoration of the cows known as gow pooja. She bursts through the stone doors of the temple and is greeted by the warmth of the sun on her skin and the fresh country air of Karnataka, India.

She arrives just in time as villagers paint the horns and hooves of a cow a bright red – a symbol of good luck and prosperity. The body has already been painted with an intricate design of a peacock, the stunning color contrasting with the dark skin of the animal. As she is examining the designs, the village aiji (auntie) brushes past her to drape a garland made of marigolds, roses and jasmines on the nape of the cow. She turns to Navitha, “We do this to show respect and reverence for these sacred animals.”  

After gow pooja, Navitha hurries to the temple for an oil bath. This tradition passed down from generations symbolizes the cleansing of the body and mind. Sesame oil is massaged into her body and rinsed off with warm water. Once completed, she gingerly gets into her new bright green saree that is adorned with embroided floral patterns and gold sequins. Navitha sniffs the air as she is getting dressed and sprints off the moment her saree is tied.  

Idli time!”, she thinks to herself and she bolts to the kitchen. During Deepavali, families eat a combination of idlia savory rice cake, with chutney and curry for breakfast. The feasting never stops. Throughout the day, Navitha continues to visit extended family members and other villagers, stopping to eat sweets coated in palm sugar, payasum and an array of vegetarian platters.  

At night, the wheeze and pop of fireworks fill the sky. A chain reaction is set off from one house to the next as a parade of children sprint from house to house to catch a glimpse of the firework spectacle. As the last firework goes up, the children head home, and Navitha returns to the temple to rest.  

The alarm rings and Navitha is transported back to the present. That was 33 years ago and she no longer lives in Karnataka, in the temple that was built by her grandfather in the 1920s. She now resides with her husband and two children in Singapore, a bustling metropolis.  

Deepavali is vastly different now that she no longer stays in the same country as her parents. Instead, Navitha celebrates it with her best friend’s family. The morning starts with prayers of blessing – a tranquil moment before the chaos descends. The ladies then start preparing a variety of dishes while the rest of the family change into their beautiful sarees and kurtas. Soon, the family is out of the door, on their way to visit close friends. 

While moving from the village to a metropolis has been stark, Navitha opines that she has found peace through her spirituality which helps her to stay grounded. Her work at the Embassy has also given her a sense of purpose and contentment. Her innate ability to understand people and empathize has paved the way for her as Consular Cashier. Through her job, she interacts with individuals from all walks of life and gets to hear their stories.