Diwali: the festival that lights up my life

December 8, 2021 — by Sanjoli Gupta
My sister and I pose for the camera during last year’s COVID Diwali celebration
The lights. The food. The clothes. What’s not to love?

The smells of spices such as turmeric, garam masala and cumin fill the air while pink, orange and tan sweets line the dinner table. Incense burns in the corner and small candles in diyas — decorated clay pottery — burn in every room. In the living room, I hear family friends laughing and the sizzle of puris, a type of deep fried bread, frying in the kitchen. Outside, my younger sister and her friends play with sparklers in the cool night air with my house glittering with four different strings of lights behind them. 

Diwali is one of my favorite holidays. In November, a general air of happiness permeates my house, but my favorite aspect of the holiday has always been the lights.  

When I lived in India, we got a week off from school to celebrate Diwali. Every year, we looked out our apartment window to see the surrounding windows filled with lights in contrast to the dark night sky. Each apartment window had its own unique flair, with some residents lining their balconies with diyas, and others hanging bright strings of lights. We would frame our doors with fairy lights, lining the balcony with orange, red, green and blue. 

Inside, the table was covered with puris and potato curry with channa (black chickpeas), samosas (a crispy outer shell filled with potatoes) and halwa (a flour-based dessert).

After praying and eating, we walked downstairs to join hundreds of families outside lighting sparklers and setting off firecrackers. I’d joke around with my friends, make shapes with the glowing colorful sparklers and terrify my sister by playfully aiming the fiery sparks toward her.

The entire apartment complex buzzed with chatter and clouds of thick smoke from the firecrackers, while crowds of children ran around in roads blocked off from cars. In the middle of the closed off freeway in front of the apartment complex, huge firecrackers exploded in green rings of smoke that danced through the dotted white lines. 

Having been born and brought up in the U.S., where Diwali is typically a quieter holiday celebrated with close friends, I was astounded by the huge celebrations when I moved to India at age 9. At the time, it seemed like the entire world had come alive in lights and fire. 

I would watch the lights and play with sparklers till late in the night. On this particular Diwali, there was so much smoke from all the firecrackers that I was practically in tears. 

Diwali means a time to relax and be with friends, as well as enjoy simple things like good food and stunning lights. Even if the lights aren’t nearly as impressive here, I’m happy I can hold a sparkler and remember the crackling and laughter from my time in India.

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