Diwali is the festival that is closest to my heart
I am a Bengali from Kolkata. But I grew up in a neighborhood (in my case, my building) where almost all the people were from North India. Every year, for the 2-3 days of Diwali, the whole building would transform into a celebration zone (a mini-Delhi, or Kanpur you could say). It would start with the Dhanteras party where we would have delicious food prepared by all the aunties and then huddle around the Housie (Bingo/Tambola) machine while the emcee called out the lucky numbers. On Diwali day, the building would be decked up in all its resplendence — with everyone’s mothers working extra hard to deck up the rangoli-s and alpona (the last being a Bengali touch by my mother). The main event was Diwali night when everyone would visit each other’s house to greet and meet everyone (most of us kids only cared about the kaju-kishmish though). This would be followed with bursting of crackers till late in the night. The day after Diwali was spent distributing sweets and bakshish to all the people who worked in the building — the darwaan-s, the maali, the plumber and others.
With all this activity going on around me, it is probably understandable why Diwali is the festival that is closest to my heart.
Yet, I have not celebrated Diwali in eight years
Eight years ago, I came to USA for doing my Ph.D. And though I had the most honest intentions to return after my Ph.D., I found that I fell prey to the +1-year syndrome and I find myself starting my ninth year in this country.
Every year, when I call my parents on Diwali night, I hear about all the celebrations that are going on. And though I am not excessively sentimental at other times, every year on Diwali night (middle of the day in US time), I find tears welling up in my eyes. This happens every single year.
On Diwali, I miss India the most.
This is compounded by the fact that Diwali day is not a holiday here in USA (Hindus make a small percentage of the population here). Now, I definitely do not dislike work — in fact, I love coming to work. But on Diwali day, I find it difficult to concentrate and be productive.
Maybe I would have felt less sad if it was a holiday here, and we could have taken some time off to celebrate at home. Mind you, my wife and I always make it a point to prepare some traditional goodies on Diwali day and deck up our apartment so that we do end up feeling the spirit of Diwali (actually my wife really takes the initiative every time, and I am so grateful for that). Yet, a holiday on Diwali day would definitely have enhanced the enjoyment. That would have made sure that on this special day, one did not have to stress about the usual work-day worries: traffic, deadlines etc. Better still would be if we could plan a trip to India during Diwali. Or even better, if we ultimately moved back to the country of our childhood. But let’s start small shall we? Let’s start by taking a day off on Diwali. Which brings me to the question:
How difficult would it be to take a day off on Diwali?
Here in USA, we celebrate all our festivals on the weekends (Durga Puja, Ganesh Chaturthi, Holi and of course, Diwali). That makes sense because that’s when everyone can get together to hold a big celebration at some community hall. But can’t we at least make sure that we take a day off on the day of the festival to carry out the celebrations and pooja at home?
At the two companies where I have worked in USA, I have found that Jews always take a day or two off on their festive occasions. They might not have a state holiday on that day — but no one is surprised to see them take those days off. I believe other communities would also take their respective days off. Why then are we Indians content to defer our celebrations to the weekend?
For people who work in the knowledge economy in USA, I find that upper management is usually quite reasonable, and it would be OK to take one day off (especially if you have planned and given advance notice). So here is my pledge —
Do you want to join me in this pledge?
LIKE the Facebook page to join the pledge.
Let me leave you with some pics from the celebrations at our building from this year (thanks to Dad for the pics).