Given that I had several really good Indian friends at Cal, I’m surprised I didn’t hear about Diwali until I went to business school. I don’t want to misstate the significance, so I’m pulling this background directly from my friend’s evite.
As with other Indian festivals, Diwali signifies many different things to people across regions of India and is observed differently throughout the diaspora. The festival heralds the approach of winter and the beginning of the sowing season and coincides with a post-harvest sense of plenty across the country. Everywhere, it signifies the renewal of life (it is common to wear new clothes on the day of the festival).
In north India, Diwali celebrates the return of Lord Rama to his capital Ayodhya after vanquishing King Ravana, who had abducted his wife Sita. In Gujarat, the festival honors Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, who it is believed visits places that are clean and spotless. Therefore, a few weeks before the festival, people get their houses cleaned and walls whitewashed.
We celebrated in business school. Every year at work, we order large tins of spicy Indian food. Last year, when I was in NYC for Halloween, I ended up celebrating Diwali with my friend’s family. Ahhhh, the food. Yummy, to-die-for Indian food.
This year my friend invited me to celebrate with his family in their newly remodeled home. I drove out to Pleasanton and found my way to their home which sits atop a street bearing the family name. I usually don’t care about my crappy car, but this time I was embarrassed as the valet drove my car down the driveway. I walked into a lavish home: marble floors, brightly-lit chandeliers, impressive views, gazebo, pond, garden. I was stunned. I met several of his friends and we toured the compound together. After walking from one room to another, we proceeded downstairs to find an exquisitely-tiled indoor swimming pool at which point I exclaimed, “OK…Hearst Castle. Has anyone been on the Hearst Castle tour? Because if you haven’t, this is it.”
Sure I was happy to see my friend and meet his family. But dinner was probably the best part of the whole celebration. Best Indian food ever! I went back three times for more.
Now, I love bracelets…ever since Madonna made a fashion craze out of them back in the eighties. I like to jingle them along my wrist and wear them past my elbow. Bracelets must be a big deal in India because I always get bracelets whenever my friends return from their trips. Well, back to the Diwali celebration…there were bracelets scattered on every dining table for guests to take. I was ecstatic.
Not only did I leave the party bejeweled, we each got boxes of sweets to take home. The most sugary, buttery sweets you’ve ever had in your life. They were so good I finished the whole box the next day. Diwali is better than any American holiday. Family and friends gather together. There’s amazing food. Presents are exchanged. And there’s jewelry and sweets! I hope I get invited again next year.