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How Diwali Felt Outside India

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Many of these people have no idea what Diwali is

Photograph by Oliver Pacheco

बस का इंतज़ार करते हुय, मेट्रो में खड़े खड़े, रिक्शा में बैते हुय, गेहरे शुन्या मे क्या देखते रहते हो? क्या खोया, क्या पाया का हिसाब ना लागा पाये इस बार भी, घर ना जा पाये इस बार भी?

-जाकिर खान

Waiting for the bus,

standing in the metro,

sitting in a rickshaw,

in deep slumber,

what do you keep watching?

What's lost, what's found, couldn't calculate this time too, couldn't go home this time too?


I smiled. I knew it was me.

I got up early today. My lecture started at 8:30 as usual but I wanted to choose what I want to wear for the night in advance.

Back home, this day on Diwali, or Festival of Lights, I would be a different person in the morning. My mom would insist me to take a shower and put on new clothes. I would excitingly choose the easiest and yet the most beautiful design for Rangoli to make in front of my house. That day it didn't matter whether you're good at drawing or not, I would just draw to embrace the beauty of the day. Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, liking my rangoli and coming to my home was another story.

That's me seven years ago

In Germany, I was already running five hours ahead of the Indian time zone. That meant, when I woke up, half of the festival was already over. My Instagram was flooded with beautiful girls and boys flaunting their ethnic wear standing beside the rangoli they made.

It was just another day in the part of Germany where I lived. I walked down the streets in my foolproof jacket against the wind. The jacket did not help my hair though. I was present in the lecture but looked at my watch for the zillionth time. Would I have time to watch Youtube tutorials and drape a saree if I rush back home at 16:45 and the Diwali event starts at 17:30? What would the menu be? Will there be dosa and sambhar? Probably not.

I was spoilt. I was used to having a holiday on what was my Christmas. It never made me appreciate more how India officially has a public holiday for festivals from all religions.

My university booked the food court for a few hours to celebrate, as we printed it on the flyers, Festival of Lights. Candles, sparklers, and firecrackers were replaced with electric lights, but euphoria could be sensed just by looking at the number of colours in the room. It was a nice break from all the dark colours everyone was used to wearing in the cold German winter. If colors do hold energy, I could feel it around me.

"Even though I saw the whole event from a 3-inch view, it was stunning," said Pulkit Grover, a student of Electronic Engineering who volunteered to be the photographer for the night and set up a photo booth. With his limited means and creativity, he managed to create a photo booth at the event where people could come up and get clicked with their friends and families. I had dragged my friends to take a picture with me in the photo booth which looked more like a fancy rickshaw saying, HORN OK PLEASE! Yes, Indians can't live without honking.

At the entrance, two Indian men, dressed in traditional attire, greeted me and my friends with Namaste, which I learnt actually meant more than just a Hi. 'Namaste' is an expression that means 'I embrace the God within you' because of the Hindu belief that God resides within us.

The two students checked our tickets and moved towards us to put a tika, a mark on forehead done usually during auspicious days. I requested them not to and said, "It would not match my makeup." Soon after, we had shots of vodka, only this time more crunchier and delicious. Those cute little glasses of vodka shots contained Aloo Bhujia, a popular Indian snack with Chai. Chai is tea, guys! There's no such thing as Chai Tea.

The celebrations kicked off by showing a short animation of Ramayan, a story behind the origin of Diwali or Deepawali. The fervent host of the night, Amrinder Singh, called out non-Indian students to take up the challenge to sing Indian songs and Punjabi phrases. It was a spontaneous call. Unprepared as they were, one student from Spain and another one from Indonesia sang whatever they could remember from the lyrics of the songs in Hindi. A German student won a gift voucher because he spoke popular Indian phrases with the energy of a true Punjabi!

"I really felt like I was in India, especially when they were dancing," said Senay Sani, a student of Bioengineering.

I would fail to describe the excitement of this night, especially during dance performances. What I can tell you about my feelings throughout the show is that my eyes were filled with sparkle looking at people around me who I never saw so amazed. Not all dance performers were Indians, which melted my heart as they were the ones who practiced for days and truly embraced an anonymous culture. God knows how they matched the beats of Bollywood songs so fantastically. Some even tried lip-syncing to Indian songs as they danced.

No wonder as soon as these dance performances ended, everyone was already on the dance floor tuning to Bollywood songs. Some smart people quickly sneaked in the queue for dinner while everyone else was busy dancing. I walked home with heels in my hands, my feet hurting from all the dancing. Maybe being away from home didn't suck after all.


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