Continuing traditions away from home

By Simran Devidasani

“Deh-wali?”

“Is it like ‘Wall-E?’”

As I continue to perfect my friends’ pronunciations of the Indian festival, Diwali, I wonder how many people at the University actually know what this holiday is.

I remember last Diwali, after my family and I finished our yearly tradition of adorning our “pooja” (prayer) stand, putting up lights everywhere, decorating and lighting “dheas” (candles), my mom said, “Simran, you might not be here next year to do this with us.” 

At that point in time, I took her comment as an overly-emotional mother moment and sarcastically responded, “Yeah, yeah, I can always Skype you.” 

To be honest, I never quite understood how important the holiday Diwali was to me until I came to the University, nor did I realize how much I took my little family traditions for granted. 

Diwali, otherwise known as the festival of lights, is an Indian New Years for most, celebrated to cherish the defeat of evil. Each family has their own way of celebrating, but most do so through a “pooja.” My family always had a certain way of doing this tradition.

But here I was, 3,000 miles away from my family, wondering how I could compensate our regular traditions in order to celebrate one of my favorite Indian holidays at school.

And then it struck me — I would hold a “pooja” in my room!

The only problem was that I would need a candle to light as the “dhea” for the God, which wasn’t allowed in the dorms, sweets to serve, which I couldn’t find, and more than the one small statue of Ganpati (otherwise known as “the elephant” to Americans) that I had.

Disheartened and frustrated, I did the only thing that I could — complained and whined to my roommate and friends.

Then, I Skyped my mother. And, as the saying goes, mothers really do know best.

What my mother helped me realize was that this festival was to cherish your life and those around you, and to thank God for everything that you have — even if you are missing a few things. She gave me ideas of which “poojas” I could do with what I had, and how I should go about those traditions. Thus, I decided to hold the “pooja.” 

In substitute of the candles, I turned on all the lights on my desk. In place of the mithai (sweets), I put out fruit, which was also acceptable. I called over my friends and used what I had.

What I discovered later on was that the University was hosting its own “Diwali Lighting of the Quad,” where you could light candles and line them along the Quad and hold a Diwali “pooja.” The fact that my university shows appreciation for other cultures, immensely cheers me up. 

Yes, it isn’t the same as being home and fulfilling all the traditions with my family, but isn’t that what growing up is all about?

The night of the “pooja” in my room, I looked around and saw the faces of my friends — faces who had become family in a matter of a few months here. As I looked at my laptop screen, I saw my parents and little sister watching me proudly as I fulfilled our traditions even from halfway across the country.

Simran is a freshman in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]