Dwelling on Diwali
By Saniya More and Divya Murthy
How one garden, a thousand lights, and a few cups of chai created a new home away from home
The funny thing about culture is one sometimes may not really notice it until they venture away from home. Because of this, many can feel lost and disconnected with their traditions and customs when they aren’t with their family and surrounded by familiarity. Diwali, a cultural festival celebrated by many South Asian communities, can often bring on feelings of homesickness and longing. One way to come together away from home is by celebrating with new friends, new neighbors, and new family.
This year, Syracuse University’s art and music histories department, with the South Asia Center and Hendricks Chapel, organized a lighting of the Sculpture Garden with luminaries, to bring to campus the brightness of what is called the Festival of Lights. Students, faculty, and families gathered to light up the garden and enjoy samosas, sweets and masala chai with each other. Here are some people from the celebration — and their stories and memories of Diwali.
“It’s a little upsetting to be away from my parents, but I have really good American friends here. They woke me up this morning and were like, ‘Happy Light Festival!’ I didn’t care that they didn’t know the name, just the fact that they wished me was enough! I feel so good now, I have samosas! I was waiting for this, and absolutely dragged everyone to this event.”
“I never expected I would be celebrating Diwali on campus, and I also didn’t expect I’d be having samosas and tea here either! The hardest part about being away from home is seeing pictures from India of people celebrating-- it’s weird for me being here alone in the U.S. Many of my friends are Indian, and we often have parties together to feel closer to home.”
“It’s definitely different. I’m used to more crowds and people around me that I know and family, but I like it. I get to meet new Indians here, and the food’s really good. I do miss my mom’s halwa and her puris and getting gifts, and being pampered by my grandparents, and the crackers-- it’s like everything. But it’s a new experience and I told myself I’ll have just as much fun even though I’m away from home.”
“My mom was asking me, “It’s Diwali, what are you going to do? First she asked me, are you bursting crackers? And I said no, it was not allowed. Then she told me to wear new clothes, that’s a tradition for us. I told her if I wear something new, I have to put a coat over it, so it’s no use! We couldn’t, kind of, do anything we used to do, but we had a small get-together within our Tamil students and it was fun.
We would have forgotten it was Diwali if not for events like this.”
“It’s like, the world is flipped. It’s entirely different. People dress differently, talk differently, behave differently. Events like these bring me closer to the Indian community, and I like to meet new people so it’s a great way to do that.”
“It’s my first time in the states. It is pollution-free — we can see the stars at night! It’s always a hard thing though, it’s the first time I’m away from my place during a festival season. Whenever it’s Diwali, I take 15 days off work and college and celebrate. But I like this place, this ambience over here. I didn’t know such things happen over here, but it feels really good.”
“Crackers were my favorite part of Diwali. But slowly, the feeling of wanting to burst crackers faded away. When we were children, that was the best feeling — bursting crackers. As we grew up, we would just go up to the terrace with our families and watch the skyscraper fireworks.
We celebrated with our neighbours. Since I’m a Muslim, we don’t celebrate officially, but all the people in the street celebrate, so it’s a celebration for me as well. Here, celebrating our festivals far away from our country is special in itself.”
“What I was thinking about with Diwali or Deepavali was... I spent a lot of time in Singapore, where it’s a big, government-sponsored celebration. It’s a national holiday. All of Little India is lit up fabulously. It’s incredible. It’s becoming a national Hindu holiday all around the world. When I was first in Madras in the 1960s, it wasn’t a big deal in South India. Now of course, it’s becoming more and more important in South India and all over the world.”