Reflections on a Diwali Tradition: A tribute to Aai

Meera Balasubramanian

Meera Balasubramanian was born and brought up in Madras, Tamil Nadu. She graduated from Stella Maris College with a BA in Sociology, and got her MBA from the Asian Institute of Management, Manila. She has enjoyed living in Manila, Istanbul and Hong Kong. Currently, Meera lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C. with her husband.

My first Diwali in Washington DC was in the 1980s. My husband was in Hungary on work. No kids yet. I had no one to celebrate my favorite festival with, though I did know some people in the neighborhood. One of them was Anu Deolalikar, who lived close by. Another was Marcella, Anu’s brother’s wife. She too lived nearby.

Lata Deolalikar, Diwali 2015.

Lata Deolalikar (“Aai”). Diwali. Chevy Chase, Maryland. circa 2015.

As I walked down the street, I met Marcella. She asked me “Do you know how to wear a saree? Can you help me?” Glad to have something to do, I went over to her apartment to dress her up. I guess she felt sorry for me, and asked if I would like to go along with her to “Aai’s” (her ma-in-law, Lata Deolalikar). I got dressed in festive clothes, excited that I would, after all, be celebrating instead of moping.

Aai (Marathi for mother) and her husband Bapu welcomed me into their home as if I was part of their plan, not a gate crasher. Aai did the Puja and then everyone sang the Aarti. I enjoyed the lip smacking spread in the midst of a warm and brilliant family. I returned home with a gladdened heart and a satisfied stomach.

After that it became a tradition for my husband and me to go to Aai’s place for the Diwali Puja and dinner. Later, our friend Shanti Subramanian also joined in sometimes.

Lata Deolalikar with Shanti, Meera and Anu.

(From L to R): Shanti Subramanian, Lata Deolalikar “Aai”, Meera Subramanian, Anu Deolalikar (Lata’s daughter). Chevy Chase, Maryland. circa 2015.


With Aai’s declining health, Anu did the planning and the cooking while, Aai did the Puja . She worried about her guests not eating enough, especially of her delicious sheera.

This Diwali (2019), the light is out but the spirit remains - the memories she gave us, we will treasure; the love she gave abundantly, we will forever cherish.

Diwali will never be the same without Aai - I will always miss the joy of her celebration, I will always miss her!
© Meera Balasubramanian 2019


Some personalities get embedded in your memories. My tributes.

What a sweet piece about my mother-in-law! Thanks.

I have been friends with Bapu and his family for over 25 years while in Germantown MD. I reconnected with Bapu recently after a long gap of over a decade. I am so touched by this story By Meera. And I came across it just by chance. I now live in Walnut Creek CA

I am Vivek Date now of Walnut Creek CA and have lived in Germantown MD for 25 years and have known Bapu and family. I had lost touch and am connected again recently. What a touching story by Meera.

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