By PREITY BHAGIA
I am a proud first-generation American. I have happily embraced uniquely American customs and cultural nuances including Baseball, Thanksgiving (especially Black Friday sales), love for hamburgers and self-service gas stations.
But there are a few things about India, the country of my birth, that I sorely miss. Diwali celebration is one of those things.
The first few years after I moved to the USA, Diwali made me acutely homesick. I missed the comfort and rhythm of my family’s Diwali traditions.
Back in India, Diwali means a 5 day (or longer) celebration and a break from work and school – very much like Christmas in the Western world. Homes are cleaned inside out so the goddess of prosperity, Laxmi, finds them worth living in; special sweets are made; colorful rangolis, lamps, and lights decorate homes; gifts are bought & exchanged. There is noise, light, laughter and tons of people all around.
My first Diwali in Houston was a bit of a shock, to put it mildly. It was an uneventful Tuesday. The world continued to rotate on its axis, everyone went to work, nothing felt or appeared different besides some really early Christmas merchandise in stores.
We did a small prayer ceremony at home with wax tealights and pocket-sized idols. Diwali came and went without a bang, no pun intended. I missed the festivities I was used to and I especially missed the flavor of the kachoris my mother made every Diwali.
Several years have passed since. I have a loving family, two beautiful children, a large extended family, and many amazing friends to show for it. As I look back on the past Diwalis I realize how the meaning of the festival has evolved for me.
My husband’s family gets together for a loud and unruly Diwali Pooja that I look forward to every year. It can mean anywhere from 30 to 60 people together, celebrating the festival. They sing songs they learned in school years ago or bhajans learned from Bollywood movies. They eat, drink and make merry. They have a unique tradition of writing down the name and location of every family member in the same notebook every year. They have done this for over 40 years. Reading through that notebook is a quick way to travel through time. I have come to love how the list of names grows every year and how exotic the locations of the clan members get.
I have also discovered that several groups in the Indian community come together and organize Diwali cultural events to keep the culture and tradition alive.
The Diwali melas and bazaars organized by these organizations give many children an opportunity to participate in cultural performances on stage and have a more engaging Diwali experience. My daughter, for example, looks forward to performing at the Bellaire Diwali, with her friends from the neighborhood, every year.
I have found that another way to make Diwali relevant for my children and their friends is to give their class at school some insight into its cultural importance. I have taught lessons about Diwali to my children’s classmates, along with easy to do crafts and seen their little faces light up when it’s time for the sweet treat.
Every year, we also look for Diwali craft ideas we all can do together. After a whole lot of glitter glue and sequin mess, we usually end up with something that we can be proud of.
Over the years, as a family, we have made our own set of very flexible traditions. When we can’t buy precious metal on Dhanteras, we buy pots and pans on Amazon instead. If Indian traditional sweets are not readily available, we are not shy to use Hershey’s kisses as a substitute.
Diwali, I am learning, is not about rituals. It is about coming together as a family and as a community. Diwali becomes meaningful when we teach our children the reasons that we celebrate the festival, and not by the grandiosity of the celebrations. Diwali signifies the victory of good over evil, light over dark, love over all else. There are no geographical boundaries for these concepts.
I will never forget how I walked into my office one Diwali a few years ago. It was quite morose that I was working that day.
As I walked to my office and dumped my bag on the desk I realized that the office had lit up candles all around. My all-American team had googled Diwali and decided to make it special for me. They decorated the office with tealights and put together a Diwali potluck complete with brisket and sausage.
I couldn’t care less that no one in their wildest dreams would serve brisket on Diwali. It tasted every bit as good as my mother’s kachoris. My heart was filled with love and I realized I was home. My hybrid American Diwali was the best kind – unfettered with rituals and shining bright with light and love.
News Source: My American Diwali