Of course, the Devi was supposed to alight only once on Diwali night, not repeatedly. But Santa also made a single passage down the chimney, which didn’t stop the Hunters’ fluorescent-tube version, so garishly visible across the street, dropping every three minutes — all the way from Thanksgiving to well after New Year’s. Mr. Garg intended his Laxmi to give Christmas a run for its money, to rival the multitude of displays sure to invade the neighborhood in the coming weeks.
His disgruntlement was cultural, not religious. Each year, he would feel his disquietude return as tinsel garlands twined and rose around lampposts along Colesville Road, as Santas hatched on cue in the atriums of shopping malls, as carols began to domineer the air even in grocery stores. Not that Thanksgiving was much better: Despite more than a decade in the United States, Mr. Garg simply hadn’t been able to get over the savagery of celebrating the slaughter of millions of turkeys nationwide. Indeed, he found the very concept of a holiday season objectionable — not because of commercialism, as some complained, but due to the forced uniformity it imposed on the entire country: one calculated toward wiping out differences and individuality, that demanded he conform, demanded he celebrate, demanded he prove himself worthy of pursuing the American dream annually.
His wife, Kalpana (Kay, as she now liked to be called), couldn’t see anything wrong. “Isn’t that the whole idea of festivals? To draw people together?” She reminded him how India, too, had a holiday season, built around Diwali, when schools closed for vacation and the entire country came to a standstill. “As for encouraging diversity, you can hardly complain, living in the D.C. area. We’ve been in this country long enough, Hari — why not try to join in?”
The problem was Mr. Garg was tired of assimilating. Tired of smiling when people called him “Harry” instead of “Hari,” tired of watching his accent (especially the vowels and the p’s), tired of feigning interest in the Nationals and the Redskins (or even trying to keep them apart in his mind). Kay — Kalpana, damn it — would point out that matters could have been much worse had his engineering firm been located in Alabama or Nebraska, instead of Rockville, where it employed immigrants from seven different countries at last count. Paradoxically, the presence of foreign co-workers simply increased the pressure to conform: the constant jockeying to see who could dress and sound and behave the most “American” (it was understood what color), to be the one management picked to interact with clients at the next sales conference.