Togetherness in light, happy Deepavali

I often find myself in communities I wasn’t born into but communities that are nonetheless welcoming and open. Whether that is the Black community or Jewish community, friends who are Muslim or those welcoming me into a world of art and creators. I am grateful for the ability to participate in these worlds in whatever small way, and think they bring us all closer together. In that spirit, I want to share with you all that today is Diwali, or Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights. Deepavali is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil and enlightenment over ignorance. We seem to need that victory more than ever these days.

The holiday rekindles fond memories of waking up early in our home in Beaverton, Oregon, being chased around the house by our parents who would coerce us into engaging in the ritual of applying oil to our hair and skin, something I hated then but love now. You are supposed to receive and wear new clothes on Deepavali, but my parents didn’t believe in the commercial part of it, so teenage Anarghya never got her share of Deepavali Abercrombie. But our house was alive with the smell of sugar and ghee, as our mom prepared for weeks with feasts of sweets and other treats. She boxed them into neat plastic containers and my sister and I would embark from house to house, handing out our mom’s famous Deepavali sweets with our dad. No new clothes, but we were immensely blessed with the gratitude and connection in the Oregon Indian community. After school, we’d head over to another Indian family’s house and spend the night lighting firecrackers in an unsuspecting cul-de-sac and devour plate upon plate of delicious, home cooked, Indian aunty, potluck food. This was our Christmas and New Years thrown into one.

My sister and I continue a similar tradition as adults in San Francisco. We invite our Indian community here to gather at my house, to share food, stories, and camaraderie. Everyone is busy with their lives, work, families, projects, and more, but it remains more important than ever that we connect, pause, and reflect on what community means in an increasingly fragmented and divisive world.

So if you know any Hindus, wish them a Happy Diwali over the next day or two. There are over a billion Hindus in the world, but oftentimes we shy away from sharing our culture or our experiences in a Western world. For many of us, our colonized mentality and diminished identity pushes us to assimilate rather than to embrace our culture and customs. I am grateful for parents who are “so Indian”. If you are to be born, be born from the great state of Karnataka was the jovial but serious motto of the Vardhana household (and also, generally, a very exuberant song from the state we are from).

I am increasingly encouraged by the young Desis today, living, sharing, creating in and around their culture. And I see these young people proudly proclaiming their identity, rather than shying away from it.

So this Deepavali, I encourage all of us to not be shy. Hindus, celebrate Diwali, share with your non-Hindu friends your Diwali experience. Non-Hindus, wish your Hindu friends a happy holiday and don’t be shy to ask a question or two — you may be rewarded with some sweets.