Growing up in India, Diwali was a huge affair. It is a festival celebrated by all of India (Hindu or not), sort of like New Year’s. Known as the festival of lights, the victory of good over evil, homecoming of Lord Rama and welcoming Goddess Lakshmi, Diwali is the biggest festival in India.
The scene during Diwali is not to be missed. The markets come alive with bright lights, crowded store offering sales and discounts to lure customers. Everyone is shopping gifts for friends, family and themselves. Children are coaxing their parents to buy more fireworks. Boxes of sweets are being loaded into rickshaws. Someone will then deliver each box to clients and friends. Jewelry stores are also doing good business selling 22 karat gold pieces to be adorned with traditional saris and salwaar kameez. The constant cracking of loud fireworks are disturbing the street dogs while occupying the kids all night long. Homes are lit with outdoor lights and diyas (clay lamps).
Since I moved to the US, I have missed watching the festivities as they use to unfold back in India. However, we Indians settled abroad have tried our best to recreate the cultural fete as best we can. Each year I head over to Lawrenceville Highway, GA (suburb of Atlanta) known also as “Little India.” Most Indian stores and restaurants are saturated in this half-mile radius. You can find everything from Indian groceries, Bollywood movies to wedding attire and authentic Indian gold and diamonds here.
My first stop is at one of the many boutiques to pick out a new outfit. It is customary to wear a new dress on Diwali day, just as you would on Christmas or your birthday. The women dress traditionally, in sari, salwaar kameez or lehnga. I pick one depending on my mood and my budget. A formal dress can cost anywhere from $100-500. If my husband has had a good year, he may also buy me matching gold earrings to go with my dress
After buying much needed groceries at Cherians, I head over to Gokul Sweets in Decatur, the closest I can come to a Halwai (sweet shop). Thankfully, the owner prepares fresh assorted Indian sweets daily. You can see the racks coming straight out of the kitchen! The sweets are prepared with ghee (clarified butter), sugar, milk, food coloring and nuts, cream, saffron, etc. You can mix and match your treats so you never get bored with the box you take home.
Celebrations are post or preponed to the nearest weekend as we don’t get a day off in the US. Generally, friends get together for an evening of food, drinks and mingling. I would decorate the front of my house, cook an elaborate Indian dinner and invite my Indian and non-Indian friends. We would wear our new garbs, eat and play games. Poker is a popular game played late into the night. I buy extra fireworks on July 4th and save them for the Diwali party. The kids enjoy the surprise and the adults are kids again, reminiscing their celebrations from childhood.