Monday, 23 November 2020

Of light, diyas, Diwali and celebrating life.

Photo credit: Sahitya

Dear Readers, 

I hope you've been well and healthy. 

As some of you may know the past fortnight has been all about Diwali; a festival of lights celebrated by --- and this is where I'm struggling (she admits after tapping the backspace button 5 times!)

So, who celebrates Diwali? Is it only Hindus? No, my Muslim and Christian and Atheist friends get as excited about this celebration of good over evil as much as I do. 

Is it just Indians? No, the same list of friends includes some whose connection to India is purely and only (unashamedly) gastronomical--alloo gobhi and gulab jamun.

I tapped the Backspace button so many times wile trying to complete the sentence that I decided it was better to explore the questions arising within and share them with you rather than forcefully plant a word that may limit the horizons of Diwali's celebratory aura.  Does assigning a festival to a group of people makes it divisive? Is there any need any more to attach festivals to regions and religions to celebrations? 

I grew up in secular India. The sweetness of Eid mingled with the joys of Diwali and colours of Holi and langars of Guru Purabs and twinkling lights of Christmas like Van Gogh's brush strokes. Everything mixed together and remained distinct at the same time. The end result was always memorable. We celebrated all the festivals on the calendar -- some more fervently than others, but the collective canvas was always vibrant and life affirming.

The common denominators were sweets and new clothes and holidays. It didn't really matter whether Krishna was being born or Christ or if the Moon was a crescent in the sky or Full or New. We were celebrating. Those three words were enough to bring the neighbours into our homes, us into theirs, families to meet and school friends to pack left over feasts in dabbas to take to school the next day to swap, bargain over or share.

Those three words didn't need any qualifiers like which God or Goddess was being thought of that day. The names of the festivals were important only to the grandmothers and banner makers. 

The celebrations were communal. All of us in the mohalla (neighbourhood) participated without invitations or inhibitions.  There were no T.V. ads to drool or fight over. No celebratory guidelines were issued by governments. We simply turned up with dreams of new things, hungry tummies and lots of noisy energy. And that was that.

Diwali of Doon, when I was a little girl, looked nothing like the showy, noisy, decadent, ridden with consumerism commotion of a tamasha everyone is compelled to be a part of and yet complain afterwards these days. Festivals have become giant conglomerates of more vs more, shiny vs shinier, louder vs deafening. Many magazine articles tell you how to 'cope' with the stresses of celebrating a festival, a holiday and how to destress afterwards.

Aren't holidays and stress supposed to be antonyms?  I may go so far and call them oxymoronic. How can stress sit next to a holiday/a festival on the same line unless we are going about this business of  celebrating  the wrong way!

Friends and family have complained of over-doing the party scene in the past years. I am guilty of getting into such a tizzy about cleaning my entire house in a day that I had to resort to a Panadol just before doing the Diwali puja this year. Why do we create mountains to climb over in order to feel like we've done a good job of celebrating? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Apart from the day long cleaning circus I planted myself in, Diwali was different this year, like everything else. Covid made sure the ex-pat Indian population couldn't travel back home to celebrate and that worked out well for the art initiative I've been a part of for the past 2 years.

Let me explain. Two years ago, I visited a facility where cancer warriors undergoing treatment stay. The facility houses blue collar workers who come to Doha from all over the world to work. They come alone and either live with their sponsor's family as their maids or drivers or in community housing provided by their employees and sponsors. Qatar Cancer Charity provides them with treatment free of charge and makes arrangement for some of the more vulnerable patients to stay in this facility so that it's easier for them to manage.

In 2018, around Diwali, I visited the facility for the first time to give some money in the spirit of giving. There I met Gary, the manager in charge, who shared his vision of using posters or art pieces to make the rooms more warm and vibrant for the patients.

"How about if the patients make that art?" I volunteered.

Gary didn't look convinced but he agreed and let me come in the following Thursday to dabble in art with 24 patients in a large activity room.

What started off as a 'one off' session has grown and blossomed into an initiative that keeps me busy and fulfilled. Many dear friends have joined in to help and support. The magic of art and the human spirit have shown me a new way to celebrate. And in this kind of celebration, trust me, there is no stress. On the contrary, my weekly visits destress me.

So, this year, we made diyas with clay and decorated them with colours. They turned out to be the most beautiful diyas I have ever seen. If you don't believe me, ask anyone who's bought them. They'll tell you:)

So many homes and hearts rejoiced in India, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Egypt this Diwali because kind souls bought diyas made in Doha by cancer warriors who fight not just the disease but the perpetual uncertainties limited finances bring.

This year, diyas made by Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims in a hospital far away from any of the countries the makers come from brought Diwali of forty years ago, from a gully in a mohalla in Dehradun to Doha and reminded me that it's the human spirit that wants to celebrate the miracle of life. Divisions of religion and countries blur into oblivion when the light of life shines. Life wants to live. There's no better place to witness this fact than in a place where disease stares at you with its painful and sometimes imminent stark reality. 

Life, every day and every minute of it, is a celebration of light. Why store it in a box of decorations to be stored away for  yet another year? 

Photo credit: Deepa

If I could capture the tears of joy, the smiles of satisfaction, the spring in steps, the blissful immersions in the making of art and the energy that fills the room (which looks like an art gallery now) and share it with you, I would. You wouldn't have to go spend a penny to 'celebrate' anything ever again. That's how intoxicating this joy is.

Brother David Steindl Rast in one of his YouTube videos talks about the difference between a journey and a pilgrimage.

"In a journey, you reach a goal, that is the essence of the journey." He states and carries on, "In a pilgrimage, every step is the goal: now, now, now. The essence of a pilgrimage is love because in love, with every step, you reach the goal." 

If celebrations became pilgrimages, not journeys, we'd stop exhausting ourselves to reach those goals. Instead, we'd be in blissful joy every step of the way. Don't you think?

For some of us, making diyas this year was a pilgrimage of sorts. Diwali became a pilgrimage in times of Covid.

You can watch the video here:

I'll leave you with a prayer. 

May we make pilgrimages out of our journeys every day and may all the celebrations light up the light that's inside of us. It needs no flame, no oxygen, no expenses at all. Just a smile. And even though smiles may be covered with masks (as they should these days), our eyes will convey our heart's songs to the ones near and far.

Happy Diwali my lovely ones.

Warmly and in gratitude for your presence on this page today,

photo credit: Deepa


  1. Lovely post Arti... And firstly let me congratulate you for such a constructive and gratifying way to celebrate your Diwali... In the true spirit of Diwali your celebration did provide light to many... So kudos for that :).

    As far as stress of celebrations for festivities goes... Personally I feel stress is associated with not the festival or the celebrations particularly but to 'show others'. Because, if it purely boils down to one's belief system of celebrating the festivals... One would not stress... One would plan and execute the tasks as per one's energy and enthusiasm and thus earn gratification at the end of it in their own way. The motive of every festival irrespective of religion and region is to spread smiles...together or apart... And rejoice... Such that at the end your soul is drenched in that momentary happiness or gratification. While this can be argued with the logic that what's the need of a festival to do or feel all this. This can very well be followed by one without the need of a festival to celebrate even. But then, if you do something every day that becomes a habit and habits if healthy are good definitely but not a source of excitement. Excitement knocks only when it's occasional and that's what days to celebrate are for... Be it festivals or special days. All that counts at the end is did your soul seep in in that moments bliss and excitement. If it did, then no matter how you will still feel the festival in all it's blast of the true spirit inside you :)

    1. Absolutely Ira. You've nailed the spirit of celebrating perfectly. Thank you for visiting and for your wonderful comment. Sending you warm hugs from Doha:)

  2. Hari OM
    A wonderful ramble through the concepts of celebration, Arti... here it was subdued not just due to COVID, but also to father being in hospital. His time draws near. I cannot even think in terms of festivity just now. YAM xx

    1. Dear Yamini,
      I understand. You're in my thoughts. Sending you love and hugs.
      Arti xx

  3. Oh Arti you said so much in this post that I am left with only words of admiration for my writer friend and more importantly for the humanist in you. You so echo my thoughts about the spirit of festivals when we were younger. I don't know what went wrong and how did we manage so much hatred. Stress and festivals is not me. I enjoy festivals and I'm not very ritualistic. So I don't follow too many rules. It's more about fun. Coming to your wonderful venture. May you continue to light up lives not only on Diwali but each day of the year with your art and your love and your writing.

    1. Thank you so much dear Sonia:)
      Hugs and love to you. xx

  4. Beautifully penned, Arti.

  5. What a lovely piece, my friend!
    We do tend to lose sight of celebrations, don't we?

    1. Thank you Jz.
      Hope you've been well.
      Will be hopping across to your blog soon:)
      Arti xx

  6. Lovely! India is such a mixture of different cultures and traditions, much more than what we all consciously realize. We have so many festivals of different types that bring everyone, irrespective of any divide, together in wholesome spirit of love and friendship.

    1. Thank you for visiting Pradeep. Wishing you and your family a healthy and happy New year:)

  7. like how your one off session, expanded into a room full of happiness.
    It is very true, it needs no flame, no oxygen, no expenses at all. Just a smile.


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