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Diwali in Parliament

Last week, Canadian prime minister joined the Indians on the joyous occasion, writes Gurmukh Singh.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2005 17:21 IST
Gurmukh Singh
Gurmukh Singh

Diwali may be more than a week away in India, but they are already celebrating it abroad.

Last Thursday, the festival of lights was celebrated in the Canadian Parliament where the prime minister, Paul Martin, and the Leader of the Opposition, Stephen Harper, joined the Indians on the joyous occasion.

In this sixth edition of this festival in the nation's Parliament, more than 300 people, including ministers, MPs, diplomats and dignitaries joined in to partake of the festivities.

Held in the West Block of the House of Commons, the show began with `deepmala'. "Diyas were all over the place. And then began the show with a five-minute puja as the prime minister, the leader of the official opposition and others stood to watch the spectacle of light. The leader of the other two national parties were also there as were Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and the Indian High Commission in Ottawa. In fact, we had representatives from all groups,'' Deepak Obhrai, the Indo-Canadian MP from East Calgary, tells

Obhrai, who has been the spirit behind the Diwali celebrations in Parliament for the last six years, said the puja was followed by bhangra performed by Punjabi boys.

"But what followed bhangra stole the hearts of the audience. It was an Odissi performance by two white girls who did it to perfection. Not even we Indians could believe that these two girls would perform odissi with such aplomb,'' the three-time MP from Alberta says.

After the puja, the august gathering was treated with Indian sweets. "We distributed ladus, burfis and samosas to everyone. Sorry, no jalebis as we didn't have a halwai at hand,'' laughs Deepak.

In their brief speeches, the leaders and dignitaries praised the Indo-Canadian community for it contribution to their adopted land. The prime minister said Diwali was now a mainstream Canadian festival.

"The prime minister was effusive in his praise of the Indo-Canadians, as was the leader of the opposition, Stephen Harper. He said the celebration of the festival in the nation's parliament was reflective of the Canadian mosaic of multiculturalism. Canada has come a long way,'' says Obhrai.

Interestingly, the million-strong Indo-Canadian community in this country takes pride in the fact that they celebrate their most important festival in the nation's parliament. "They don't do this even in India. And taking a cue from us, other countries like Britain and New Zealand which have a large number of Indians, have also started celebrating our festivals,'' says Obhrai.

In fact, Canada was the first country in the western world to start celebrating Indian festivals and religious days at the official level. Years ago, the Sikh MP from Toronto, Gurbux Malhi, started the celebration of Vaisakhi in the House of Commons. He still holds this function every year.

This year, Bhupinder Liddar, who was appointed Canada's consul general in the newly opened consulate in Chandigarh but could take charge because of some reasons, too organised a gala party in Ottawa in the second week of April which was to be to attended by the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. But they could come as they had to attend Pope John Paul II's funeral in the Vatican.

Apart from being the first western country to start celebrating Indian national days and festivals at the official level, Canada was also the first and the only country to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa in its parliament where the then prime minister, Jean Chretien, had apologised for the maltreatment of the coloured people in the past. He also regretted the Komagata Maru episode when more than 350 Indian immigrants were sent back from Vancouver port after a two-month wait to disembark. And when these people reached Kolkata, they were riddled with bullets. Many died in that episode in which Canada played a shameful role.

Back to the present. Canada was also the first country to issue a stamp on the Khalsa in 1999.

Obhrai says he is slowly withdrawing as the organiser of this Diwali show in parliament with a view to making it a community-organised show. ``In fact, this year as well the show was organised by the three India-Canada associations of Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. I was there just because I happened to the so-called founder of this show,'' says Obhrai.

Across this far-flung country, the Indians are organising Diwali melas on different days.

The Greater Toronto Area, where there is a huge presence of Indians, is in the festive mood. In Vancouver - which has over a dozen Indian religious places- too the festivities are being organised at the community level.

``In my city of Calgary, we are celebrating Diwali in a big way. We celebrate our success collectively,'' says Obhrai whose individual success as an immigrant is a shining example in Canada.

First Published: Oct 24, 2005 00:00 IST