Diwali — Festival of Lights — must be a national holiday in America.
No, I did not celebrate Diwali this year in America in a significantly different way from the other years.
No, I did not celebrate it with firecrackers. Firecrackers are not allowed in New York unless you have a special permit for a special occasion. And Diwali is not a special occasion unless you do it as a big business group, together with other big businesses.
I did not celebrate Diwali visiting from makeshift Kali temple to makeshift Kali temple, as I did back in Calcutta. There is no makeshift temple in New York, or anywhere else in the U.S.
I did not celebrate Diwali taking the bus, tram or train to visit a family or friend — wearing new Indian dresses. Even in a place like New York City where they brag about diversity a lot and where over two hundred languages are spoken and five million religions are observed, it’s practically unthinkable to walk across the town in a sari, kurta, punjabi or salwar. You can find a few people walking in their ethnic dresses in a small, dingy neighborhood of the town where they live in large numbers — on one or two special days in the year. But that’s about it. I do not live amongst them.
I did not celebrate Diwali as a holiday. Diwali, or any other non-Judeo-Christian celebrations are no holidays. Most people here in America don’t even know what Diwali, Deepavali, or Durga Puja is.
BUT, THIS YEAR, I CELEBRATED DIWALI IN A PERSONALLY CELEBRATORY, SUBTLE WAY.
I hope some of you — readers of my blog living in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia or South America — think about doing something similar in your own circles. This is one small way you can make a difference.
This is a small way you can make a difference in peoples’ attitude about us, the invisible others.
I went to teach my weekend labor workshop, as I always do, in a remote corner of Long Island. Some forty union workers — brothers and sisters came to attend my class today. Some belonged to a Greek orthodox club. Some belonged to a women’s association. Some were rank and file union members.
I spoke with some of the leaders who I’ve always considered open-minded and willing to learn about other countries and cultures. I knew they would much appreciate my little idea.
I told them before the class began that today and tomorrow would be the Diwali weekend. I told them what Diwali or Deepavali — Festival of Lights — was all about. I told them that over one billion people were now observing Diwali as their biggest festival of the year.
So, before the class began, in their introductory speeches welcoming the students, they wished everybody a Happy Diwali. They relayed my information back to them. I even drew a little greeting sign on my flip chart with colored markers, complete with the familiar Diwali lamps.
It went well. People were happy to know about it. They wished me back.
But, the real surprise was this.
During the coffee break, when they normally show a work-related video to the participants each week, they invited me, and played a three-minute-long National Geographic video on Diwali (click here to watch it). The video showed how people are celebrating this happy occasion in Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore and Calcutta with much fanfare. It showed the firecrackers kids are playing with on the neighborhood streets. The video showed Indian families — Hindus and Muslims alike — eating and sharing sweets, and wishing one another.
At the end of the two-minute video, the Greek orthodox club members, the women’s association sisters, and the rank and file members all clapped. Then, they wished me a Happy Diwali again.
It made my day. It put a big smile on my face.
I realized I didn’t wait for big media — CNN, Fox or New York Times — to tell Americans about Diwali.
I realized that with some effort, you can enlighten people a lot.
Just the way Deepavali does it.
May Goddess Kali Bless You All.
Brooklyn, New York