Shobhan Bantwal says her Diwalis have taken on a different glow.
Diwali strikes a nostalgic chord in my heart.
Perhaps, because as a child growing up in India in the 1950s and 1960s, it meant no school for a few days.
Or it could be because the adults around me were more generous and tolerant during this auspicious season.
Our home was always crowded at Diwali. With family, neighbours and friends, who were always welcomed warmly by my parents. On the front stoop the beautifully decorated terracotta oil lamps warmed the hearts of the guests stepping inside.
I certainly don't miss the acrid odour and deafening boom of firecrackers -- something I never enjoyed at any time in my life. In fact, I was terrified of those colourful little cylinders that looked innocuous but were filled with powerful and dangerous explosives.
On the evening of Diwali, Lakshmi Puja would be performed by my late parents in my father's humble medical office. He was an ophthalmologist in the small town of Belgaum, Karnataka, and with five daughters to raise; he could certainly use all the blessings that the goddess of wealth and abundance could bestow.
But today, at this point in my life, Diwali is a completely different sort of holiday -- more subdued, more philosophical. New clothes and gold jewellery do not appeal anymore. Blissfully there are no firecrackers disturbing the peace in our middle-class, suburban American neighbourhood, either. If my family and I can make a visit to one of the local temples to offer our prayers to the goddess, we do it very quietly.
Now Diwali is all about thanking Lakshmi for the many blessings she has bestowed upon us and our friends. Although most families have some sort of private worship at home, an American-style Diwali has become a community event. Every state in the US has the equivalent of a Marathi Vishwa, Konkani Sabha, Bengali Association, Kannada Koota, Tamil Sangam, and various other regional-ethnic organisations that celebrate Diwali as a group. Typically, volunteers pitch in to make the occasion special, not just for themselves, but for others with similar cultural affiliation.
Community spirit is probably what Goddess Lakshmi always had in mind for us mortals -- benevolence for the sheer joy of it and praying to her as a group. Group prayer has long been considered a potent force that can heal and bring about peace in the world. Eating sweets and distributing them to others at Diwali, especially the less fortunate, is not entirely about consuming sugar. It symbolises the spreading of goodwill, blessings and peace, all of which seem to be in short supply in the world lately.
Since many Indian Americans are baby-boomers who are gradually settling into retirement and their golden years, Diwali has taken on a different type of glow. Long years of living and working hard in a highly capitalistic society have no doubt led to the pursuit of material things, and rightfully so. But on the other hand it has also taught us that Diwali is less about accumulating wealth and more about giving than taking, more about appreciating than resenting, more about forgiving than avenging.
Shobhan Bantwal is the author of the novel The Dowry Bride. Visit her website: www.shobhanbantwal.com
Photograph caption: A scene from the Diwali Mela at New York's South Street Seaport.
Photograph: Paresh Gandhi