Happy Diwali can be far more than a salutation to recognize this Indian (Hindu, Jain, and Sikhs) festival of lights. At the Patel home last Saturday night Happy Diwali was a state of mind, a shared consciousness, an atmosphere, a reality, a command.
I first learned of Diwali last year upon receiving an e-card. I did some modest research. One can, and by all means should, learn the basics of Diwali here.
My focus this year is not on an understanding of what Diwali means to hundreds of millions around the world. This year my focus is on the 50 or so gathered at the home of Ami and Bhavesh. My wife and I were honored to be two of the few non-Hindus at this affair. I love to be immersed in and observe different cultures. This heightened my sense of anticipation, in fact all my senses, and I was not to be disappointed.
Let’s start with the the sense of sight. (I am excluding comments of this gorgeous house since that has little to do with Diwali and I will save that for my freelance article in Better Homes and Gardens.)
The first sights that captivate the eyes are the colors and flows of the Saris. Most of the women were in traditional dress. A Sari is one of the most beautiful items of clothing a woman can wear. Each one on display that night was distinct. The colors were dramatically bright. This was in contrast with the traditional male dress which was distinguished but drab. The women definitely stand out. Saris wrap around the woman seductively. The men’s garb hung straight. Check here for a demonstration of traditional Indian dress by our friends Frank and Sheryl.
The next sense to be engaged was taste. Appetisers aplenty but be careful, many had a surprising hot kick. The dinner was served buffet style. I have rarely eaten Indian food and had no idea what I was smelling and gazing at. Fortunately one of the guests noticed our predicament and while carrying his 4 month old girl gave us a tour of the food and explained what everything was. What it was was delicious. That much translates across all languages.
Speaking of language one heard more than English spoken. But in all cases the conversation was engaging. First, this was my first opportunity to meet Frank’s wife Sheryl. I had heard many good things about her and found them to be true. Over dinner we met a woman now living in the Village in NY. She shared stories of running into famous people on the street. We talked of growing up, work life, what we will do if the economy continues to tank, and of unexpected house guests.
Then, after dessert was served, singing and dancing broke out. First an elder woman sang a few traditional Hindu hymns. On one level they reminded me of some of the Hebrew prayers in terms of cadence and tone. I suspect there is commonality across many religious singing. Then one of the uncles sang for much of the rest of the night. As he described them they were a combination of the old and the new. He would discuss some of them in English. One was about being in the moment and not worrying about the past or the future. Love what you are doing right now. Very different than most Western points of view.
After some cajoling, the dancing began with one teenage girl doing a vigorous traditional dance. The hip, arm and hand movements seem to be what makes the style particularly Indian. Eventually more people came out to dance. Soon it was hard not to since someone was either gently pulling you out of your chair or if you were standing on the periphery a hand on your back would firmly nudge you into the circle of dancers.
I eventually caught on to the fact that many of the songs dances were straight out of Bollywood. I have yet to see a Bollywood feature film but that is now definitely in my future. Some of the music seemed to have a bit of an American flavor. At one point I could have sworn that there were strains of rockabilly intertwined in one of the songs. Sure enough, we were told that in the 1960s Bollywood integrated some of the American music and dance of the times.
I started writing about Happy Diwali. Happy was these people. All ages singing and dancing, having a grand time and making sure that you were having one too.
I cannot wait until next year. And next year we will be dressed to blend in with the crowd.