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Keeping Diwali Alive

October 2003
Keeping Diwali Alive

Parenting a toddler may well be one of the most effective of catalysts to bring about change in one's perspectives on life; more so for first generation immigrant parents raising their children in the new country. To a parent under these circumstances, values, society, heritage, and culture suddenly take on renewed meaning and significance. Concerns about raising children amidst the conflict of dual cultures are heightened. Worse still, is the fear of failing to impart the legacy of what constitutes us - our Indianness, and all that goes with it: our (true) family values (not just those sound bites often hyped in this country); our respect for elders, particularly of our parents; our rituals, customs, and? our festivals.

Diwali, one of the most cherished times of the year for many Indians, therefore takes on an added significance for us in the new country. Admittedly, in my years prior to parenthood, I hadn't given it much thought. The rituals and sentiments of Diwali were starting to wear off after having lived here for a decade-and-a-half.

But, when one thinks about how the festival is undergoing a transformation even in India (see Cover Story, "The Changing Face of Diwali"), one is forced to confront the fact that if not for our vigilance in keeping this very cherished foundation of our heritage alive, it would surely perish.

With India itself loosing so much of the Diwali of yesteryears, we out here certainly may find it that much more difficult to retain all the nuances of the festival that we grew up with. Hence, the exaggerated importance of doing all we can to keep the passion going.

It matters little what specifically we do to keep Diwali alive, as it is a festival that has as many manifestations as there are ethnicities amongst Indians. From the outward appearances such as rangolis and diyas, to the family traditions of Diwali dinners, to community celebrations such as burning the effigy of Ravana for Dusherra, and all the way to the spiritual practices of various pujas, there is a wide panorama of Diwali indulgences to choose from. The point is to do what we can and spark the interest in our children.

Fortunately, we do have role models to help us in this quest of sustaining Diwali in our new land. Indians settled in countries such as Guyana, England, Singapore, Malaysia and the nations of the Middle East have retained our festivals such as Diwali with more aplomb and tenacity than we have in America. In many of these countries, some festivals have become mainstream. In Guyana, Diwali is a national festival with an official holiday, this despite the fact that Guyanese Indians have been disjointed from India for generations. While having Diwali declared a national holiday may be farfetched for Indian Americans, we might at least consider doing more to keep Diwali alive for our posterity.

- Parthiv N. Parekh

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