by Neil Khilwani
If you do not know what Diwali is, it is the festival of lights that is celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains all over the world. Ultimately, it marks the victory of light over dark, good over evil, and hope over despair. In the B.C. world (Before Corona), my Diwali celebrations consisted of singing prayers with family at home, eating delicious Desi sweets, receiving money from relatives, going to parties full of poker and fine food (all vegetarian), and lighting off firecrackers at midnight that confused the White neighbors. It was usually on a school night, but that did not stop our celebrations from going on well past 3 am. Thankfully, my senior year of high school finally started giving us off for Diwali, which I never thought I would see when an American public school gave off for a Hindu holiday. I love the First amendment.
In the Covid world, Diwali looked very different this year for me and everyone else celebrating it. For example, in New Delhi, the pollution is so horrible that the government strongly advised against lighting off fireworks. The virus has made it virtually impossible to attend large Diwali festivals. Every year, the Sikh Gurdwara in my town would hold a huge celebration where they would set up free food stands from pani puri to Dominos Pizza. Needless to say, that event was cancelled this year. And what happened to our family friend’s party that they invite us to every year where my mother dominates in poker? Corona canceled that as well. So, how was I supposed to carry out my Diwali plans this year? The answer is to be with close family. After getting tested off-campus where my friends and I ran into Suits and had a fascinating conversation about what he has been up to since March, I was cleared to go home. Coming back to Hicksville, I found myself in the company of my mother, father, sister, one of my aunts and uncles, and my cousin and her toddler. In the Indian culture, cousins are like siblings, so in a sense, her kid is my niece. Seeing her and how much she has grown since I last saw her made the whole thing worth it.
After catching up with everyone and having my sister and mother berate me over getting a haircut, we started our prayers. I told them I would cut my hair when there was a vaccine, and my cousin suggested that I might as well get ready for a turban then. I hope she is wrong. I was starving since I had not eaten for hours, but my mother told me we had to pray first. She called us all into the dining room, where we usually pray because there is a shrine. The prayers consist of chanting mantras, whose wordings I have memorized after hearing them for 20 years. While we sing, someone is supposed to ring a bell. Usually, that has been my job since it is typically given to the youngest. But this year, my “niece” got to use the bell. Thank you for replacing me as the “baby” in the family. Now I can coast through unnoticed.
After praying, we were finally able to eat, and I devoured a small pie of pizza from Singas. If you are ever near a Singa’s Pizzeria, do yourself a favor and order a pie. I am convinced they put drugs in there because I can not stop eating their pizza once I take my first bite.
Anyways, after that, we all moved back to the living room and just talked like any other family talks on a holiday minus the tense political banter and awkward fact that Dad had an affair with Aunt Becky. That is just what I imagine happens at other family gatherings.
Our fiesta did not carry all through the late-night like it typically does because my cousin had to head back to Connecticut. While this year did not look like other years, we were still able to achieve the heart of what these Diwali celebrations were all about, which is to be with those you love. As cheesy as that sounds, is that not what days such as that are about? We may not be able to live our lives or Diwalis as we usually do, but as long as we’re together, we will make it through.