So you thought Diwali is a prototypical Indian cultural phenomenon that transcends Hindu ritual and is more veritably a manifestation of India's national identity? In this part of the world, this would have been considered true some years back. Not quite so any more.
Today, Diwali has become the luminescent festival of lights illumining many a household, not all of whom are Indian. So fully have firangi families here embraced this celebration that it wouldn't be anomalous to say that Diwali has become more than a desi event, reverberating sonorously through an alien landscape.
Coinciding with the Halloween hullabaloo, like other major cities with Diaspora population, Atlanta wears the look of a bedecked bride, replete with fall flowers, pumpkin cartels and even early Christmas lights and colours. For those of us celebrating Diwali, the culmination of a procession of individual festivals beginning at Ganesh Chaturthi, or to some the beginning of the festive Hindu year, this lambent cultural ambience is inspiring and assimilative.
Given the paucity of traditional Diwali ware here (discounting the merchandise sold in Indian stores) decorations on sale for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are all alluring to the Indian-American keen to bejewel his home and hearth on the occasion of possibly, the biggest festival of India. Wreaths of flowers and fruits, lights and festoons as also bags of chocolates, pumpkin pies, pots of plants and other goodies are all becoming a part of our Diwali here.
More significantly, beginning with ornate Durga Puja celebrations, again not an alien phenomenon anymore to local Atlantans of other communities and nationalities, this year's Diwali celebrations have flown seamlessly into other cultural niches. For American families wishing to partake of this great Hindu tradition, Diwali is an auspicious start and a lavish one at that.
Again, to the untutored mind, this, the festival of lights is about, quite simply, the victory of good over evil and the celebration thereof; a simple concept, one that is effortlessly easy to relate to. With much joy therefore, people have eagerly taken to lighting up their homes with festive electric bulbs (a worthwhile replacement for diyas), playing cards on the eve of the festival, even going that extra length and buying new vessels on Dhanteras, all of which wears the aura of fusion festivity rather than devout adherence to stricture.
It is not surprising any more to see a much larger conglomeration of American families and friends commingle and celebrate Diwali with their Indian counterparts. Some among them have taken to wearing traditional Indian yarn such as Kurta-Dhoti, Sarees, Lehengas, etc to ascribe more authentically to the holy tradition.
Others find it both mesmerizing and spiritually stirring to visit Hindu temples around this festive season and imbibe the spirit of this landmark celebration in its essence by participating in the grand puja-archana and other ceremonies.
The most widely embraced facet of the festival however, seems to be the must-do visit to an Indian eatery, especially to ones that offer typical Diwali delicacies such as malpua, gujiya, gulab jamuns, among other sumptuous delights.
In fact, seeing the alacrity with which Indians and other communities welcome this festival, traditional restaurants have done quite the turn-around in that they have innovated and improved conventional recipes with a zany spin-off. As such, the regular samosa becomes the hara-bhara samosa during this time, the typical chaat-papri becomes the navratan chaat mix, the zesty aloo-dum becomes sadabahar aloo bhurji, and so the saga goes.
To add to an already burgeoning desi restaurant culture, special pricing on lavish buffet meals, other ancillary meal deals, discounts to a group larger than 10 people, improvised ambience and deluxe service are all part of the Diwali gig that is being played out for the Diwali patron, Indian or American.
Just as Thanksgiving and other American festivals are a reason for celebration for myriad Indian families, Diwali, so heartily accepted by Americans is soon becoming a fascinating episode in their annual cultural canvass. This fine acceptance of cross cultural phenomenon is symptomatic of a world coming closer in spite of innate differences of opinion, lifestyle, creed and sensibility.