My First Diwali Away from Home – By Arshia

Diwali is a big deal for several people in India. I never considered myself to be very religious, but spending my first Diwali (in a long, long time) away from home made me realise just how important it was to celebrate the festival with my family.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this Hindu festival, Diwali is the festival of lights, and mythologically, it signifies the homecoming of a victor after good has won over evil. It’s a time of love and bonding, not only with your loved ones but with your community as a whole. I have memories of celebrating by bursting firecrackers with my friends as a child, and even the neighbours we never saw would come out to share a sparkler or two. Everyone’s in a good mood, dressed in their vibrant, festive best, sweets are distributed all around until you don’t remember which box of sweets is whose, and everyone’s houses are covered in strings of lights and lined with rows of diyas (little lamps made of clay with a cotton wick to light).

As I grew up, the excitement of the crackers faded, and while the festival wasn’t marked with its usual hustle-bustle, it was still a time to bond with my family over a special meal, or to help my mother roll out the wicks for the diyas. We would still dress up, if only to take a hundred photographs that my parents would then sift through to send to the extended family groups with the usual “blessings from our family to yours” message. In short, it was still a time filled with love and togetherness.

I joined Uppsala University this autumn, and faced my first Diwali away from home on Monday, the 24th of October. In the week leading up to Diwali, my Instagram feed was a myriad of people I knew having several rounds of Diwali parties, and I could feel the homesickness creeping up my throat. Without realizing it, Diwali had made its importance known, and I missed the little things I’d do if I was at home with my parents and my younger sister. I hadn’t made any particular plans for Diwali myself, even though I did have a group of Indian friends.

Eventually, the 24th of October rolled along and I found myself sitting dejectedly with a reading for my next class. My phone buzzed with pictures from my family dressed in their glowing traditional attire, and it suddenly struck me that sitting dejectedly wasn’t all I had to do. There might be several thousand kilometres between me and my family, but hopping on a video call with them would take a couple seconds at best. Two rings later, I could hear the distant sound of crackers being burnt at my apartment complex back at home, and my phone was crowded with the smiling faces of my parents.

The call didn’t last long, but it was more than enough to lift my spirits and remind me to keep the spirit of the festival alive by myself. Diwali is also a festival that calls for an intense cleaning/repairing session of your entire house, and so, as mundane as it might sound, I pulled out a round of sewing and repaired a tear I made in my clothes while getting a pantleg caught on a random nail on my bike (Uppsala things, I guess)! I folded my fresh laundry, and decided to make myself a special meal, preferably something that I had never tried making before, and it wasn’t hard to find a recipe like that since I have cooked approximately three times before coming to Sweden, and I am very basic with all my meals.

I settled on a tofu salad (very non-Indian, I am aware), and while I was cooking, I bumped into my Indian friends, who also had nothing on their plate apart from studying or working. Fortunately, we collectively decided to put everything aside for a while and spend time with each other. Sitting at the kitchen table, we shared stories of what we used to do for Diwali growing up, and it was so interesting to see how different everyone’s celebrations looked back at home.

I have this distinct memory of zooming out and looking at that moment – the three of us, laughing and talking over a shared meal in a typical common Flogsta kitchen – and feeling like that was Diwali celebration enough. To sit and spend time with people you enjoy spending time with, to share, to spread good feeling, to remember what is good and what to be grateful for, and to try and create more of those things. I mean, isn’t that what all these festivals are for anyway?

I ended up with a very strange but very memorable Diwali, and it was one that I felt genuine joy and warmth in, despite the absence of the fire-lit diyas.

I think what I’m trying to say is that, things can look so different when you’re in a different country, enveloped in a foreign culture that takes you so far from your own. But that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate in your own little way; in a way that makes you feel the core happiness that is seated at the centre of the time you spent with your loved ones. Celebrations don’t have to look like they did back at home, they need to feel like home.

2 Comments

  1. Sandeep Koul

    Excellent, heartwarming
    Just wow

  2. Sandeep jagtap

    Beautifully written Arshia!! Heartwarming…

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