This post is from my brother, Anand and his wife, Rekha. They stay in Virginia, the United States with their sons Om and Dev.
Childhood Memories of Indian Diwali
Diwali in the USA is, predictably, very different from back home. To me, Diwali brings back fond memories from my childhood. Since we grew up in Southern India, we would get new dresses and lots of fireworks to light on Diwali. I distinctly remember I used to be so excited as a kid. I would wake up around 4 am and rock my brother and yell “Deebali Vandaach!” meaning Diwali has arrived! Amma, my mother, would smother us with sesame oil from head to toe before we had a shower. It was a long-standing tradition to have a sesame oil bath during Diwali. Read more about the tradition of sesame oil bath here in Antaryamin’s blog. The hot shower that followed cleaned up all the grease, and we came out squeaky clean. All of us wore brand new clothes and immediately hit the rooftop to light our choicest firecrackers. Crackers in the West have an entirely different meaning. Here, people eat ’em!. We would pollute the pristine dawn atmosphere with the smoke of all the fireworks. Without a shred of guilt. Such was the innocence.
Diwali in the US
I missed all these rituals as I moved to the US, where Diwali was lost in the scary costumes of Halloween. Back in the 90’s, Diwali was relatively unknown and lighting up fireworks would mean inviting the cops for a drink. We decked up our house with the choicest Diwali decorations. However hard I tried to explain the idea of Diwali to my American colleague, he would have a nonplussed look on his face every time. And had to explain the derma benefits of sesame oil and Sivakasi fireworks. I started lighting up a few candles on the stairs of my apartment complex and the neighbour would go, “Well, did you lose your key?” With that, I would completely lose my enthusiasm and come back to my apartment and start watching the celebrations of Diwali on Dish TV’s international channels.
A Truly Indian Diwali here now
Things have definitely changed in recent years. Acknowledging the Indo-American community, the United States released a Diwali stamp in 2016. Costco starts selling bulk fireworks during Halloween. Diwali celebrations in the United States have come a long way today. From a group of Indian friends having potluck dinner to authentic Indian parties; guest decked up in their best traditional clothes and jewellery. And catered Indian Food. We now light real fireworks in the backyard, with boisterous Bollywood music in the background. Diwali gifts, of course, were a must and each gifting idea was unique and different from the other. Today. the local Indian stores sell fresh mithai (Sweets) to compete with Halidram’s frozen version. Celebrations begin from Navaratri and last till Diwali. In fact, the last Saturday of October has officially been dedicated to “Diwali” in the state of Virginia!