Saturday, November 01, 2008

Why the strong affinity to festivals - my story...

Diwali is almost over. The noise of firecrackers has almost totally faded. The lamps and lanterns are almost all removed. This weekend signifies the part of bidding adieu to visiting cousins and relatives, and in some cases, your own 'boriya bistar bandhna' to get back to life and work. At this time, you really wonder why does Diwali or for that matter any festival warrant such attention. Indeed why is it such a big deal? The answer lies in the spirit of togetherness. All festivals in essence are a means to get together. Like I'd mentioned in the very first post of the WRIIMSMN series, Indians need a reason to celebrate - Ganpati, Durga Puja, Diwali, Chhat Puja, anything! But more than the devotional or religious aspect it is a means for all extended families and friends to get together, share stories of their life so far, and so on.

The true value of these festivals is actually realized when
one is out and away from family in an alien land. In India, Diwali is a phenomenon! Crackers, lights, sweets the works. Noise begins a week in advance. I remember last year, I was out in South Africa during Diwali. From Mumbai to Johannesburg, a huge sea of difference. At least the Desi community in US is a lot more vibrant. Hence there is at least a chance for people to get together and greet one another. There isn't the gross ignorance about Indian festivals in the US. At least the Desis are aware of what Di - wall - e is all about. At least some! But in Johannesburg, given the fact that the Indian community is tiny, there was nothing called Diwali Consciousness over there!! The very idea of spending Diwali away from home was rather bleak. Thank God, we were a team of around 16 Indians and we managed to celebrate at least a little bit of togetherness.

So, in spite of awakening to utter silence, as against staccato cracker sounds that we were used to, in India, my roomie and I wished each other, and then headed off to the nearest Desi temple - at Melrose. Thereafter, we headed to work. Almost all of us were dressed differently, in new clothes, et al and all 16 of us managed to greet each other, chatter away to glory in an attempt to try to forget the fact that we were away from home. Our African client walked up to us and said, "Ummm, what's special today, why are all you Indians so happy?" I said, "it's Diwali, the most important Indian Hindu festival." "Ohh.. Good Good... enjoy yourselves.... Lovely... Indian festivals are lovely...." and he walked off. I still missed home like crazy, I called up and cribbed left, right and center. I missed my people, my city, my noisy vibrancy, the atmosphere of cheer and festivity! I cribbed about it all.

We still wanted to make it special. Typically in India, Diwali involves a cartload of sweets, and a rather 'feasty' lunch. Without that luxury, we decided to go the Pizza way. Our daily lunch used be home cooked food, rice and a vegetable or some such stuff. But today, since it was Diwali, we ordered Pizzas, and made merry over lunch! We then decided to wrap up work and leave early, and a few of us headed over to the Sandton City Mall. After finishing off shopping, we sat down to a coffee at 'House of coffee'. The aroma of the Columbian coffee I had there still stokes my memories. We sat talking of how we celebrate Diwali in our respective cities. How much we'd enjoy the festive season and so on. Our Project Manager who was staying in Johannesburg with his wife and kid invited all of us to his house for dinner, since it was Diwali. We then headed over there, had some excellent food, and sat talking way into the night, finally finishing off with a few rounds of traditional Rummy! All this managed to make the day truly memorable. More so because the whole gang was unknown to one another, and we had all met only on this project, a couple of weeks back. A complete band of quasi strangers, but bound by a thread of Indianness.

All the while that I was in India, I'd never bother too much about festivities and so on. I mean, I'd participate and go to the temples, but never actually look forward to the festivals with the keen eye, or awe towards them. But this year, after seeing how terrible it really is to be away from all the cheer and the festivity, I truly came to appreciate this aspect of our Indianness. Our festivals truly are a unique factor..........

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