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Diwali became my American holiday.
I was raised in a Bengali Hindu family. For us, to celebrate Diwali one has to worship the Goddess, Kali. Black skinned and wild-haired mother goddess and a necklace of skulls (really bad-friends-whose-she-deprived skulls), Kali is the figure of the woman you don’t want to mess with. He is armed, and is ruthless, except those who worship him. (I know some such women. I also worship them.)
In my bedroom, there is a painting of Kali made by an anonymous female artist from the Madhubani region of eastern India, gifted to me by a friend 20 years ago.
I tell you this because Diwali, which may be the only Hindu holiday you have heard, means different things to different communities.
If your family comes from North India, your Diwali story represents a page from the epic story of the Ramayana. It marks the victorious return of its royal hero, Rama, after defeating a clever rival from the south. The people of his kingdom ask the oil lamps – diyas – to bring him back home.
If your family is from the south, Diwali completely defeats a different greedy dictator, telling the story of another great epic, the Mahabharata, Krishna. It is celebrated as Diwali in the Caribbean, Deepavali in Sri Lanka, Tihar in Nepal.
Everywhere we celebrate, we light a lamp.
For me, as an Indian-American, Diwali is distilled to its essence while raising an Indian-American child. Diwali is a celebration of light. It falls on the darkest night of the lunar cycle. It symbolizes the victory of good over evil, justice over tyranny, knowledge over ignorance. It reminds me that we can help each other get through dark times.
In our country, Diwali comes at a particularly critical time. On Friday, the United States added more than 177,000 new coronovirus cases, another one-week record. And the sitting president refused to accept last week’s election despite his decisive loss.
On Saturday afternoon, my daughter and I would put on our masks and ride the bus to our friends’ garden in Brislin, equipped with snacks from Maison Noir and a bottle of Pinot from others. Our host has warned me not to bring sweets, which is traditionally preferred on Diwali, as it is already in stock. My daughter is wearing her hardcore salwar kameez. If I feel brave, I will wear a saree, underneath which are thermal as I am always cold.
We would sit outside, seven of us, at a safe distance from each other. Our children will light lamps, so that we can remove sickness and ignorance, so that we can restore justice.
On a dark evening, our children will show us the lights.