“The Good Guesthouse has never seen such a Diwali!” -Harvinder
US: First of all, shout out to President Obama for producing a Happy Diwali video message, bestowing well wishes and a reminder for the holiday as a time of contemplation and thankfulness. The first US President to ever acknowledge the eastern holiday, he even correctly pronounced sal mubharat (happy new year) and metaye (sweets in Hindi). That’s my boy.
Pondicherry, Dumas Street: Last night we had a wonderful Diwali celebration. Harvinder and I decided it should be styled as a mehefil, a gathering of people who share songs, poetry, and stories by candlelight.
Some expressed doubts about my attempt to organize an event with so many people. Having cooked enough food and planned enough events to know I could pull it off, this talk did less to discourage than frustrate. When you tell someone that they cannot do something, or that it will be too difficult, you are limiting their capability to grow. It is one of the ultimate disempowerments to tell someone they cannot do something. If you are worried I will fail, let me fail. Otherwise how can I learn to succeed? If you want to make rangoli designs or try your hand at gulab jamun, you should do it. The only secret is to believe in yourself before anyone else will.
The night went off without a hitch. Held in the Society’s Good Guesthouse, a lovely French villa, the setting was perfect for a festive evening. We decorated the steps with rangoli designs of lamps and candles. The Good Guesthouse staff contributed a bit to our decorating.
The sky was thankfully clear for most of the evening, so we placed candles and small oil lamps all around the wide terrace, creating an atmosphere of soft shadows that lent itself to musical offerings and enjoying good company. We served Maharashtra rice, baingan bharta, papaya compote, and bread pakoras with tamarind chutney; it was all delicious.
Before and after dinner we passed around candles and took turns sharing songs and poetry from all over the world, America, Italy, Africa, and of course many from India, both old and new.
We made so much rice we had to cook it in four separate pots.
Bhaingan bharta, mashed roasted eggplant with tomato, onion, and coriander
The sharing of songs and poetry were by far the best part. But another wonderful thing about the mehefil was that everyone contributed something. Baburam brought banana leaves and his special flower juice from Matrikunj. Maitreyee, Rathi, Venus and I spent hours in the kitchen. Harvinder got the lamps, and more than one person brought metaye. This communal spirit is exactly what I hoped for, letting everyone offer their best so that all may share in the simple but too rare joy of togetherness.
When we are young we often have birthday parties and play-dates and socializing at school. As we grow into adulthood the opportunities to laugh, sing, and play grow scarce. But I find that these times are necessary and precious to create, as it allows us to bond with the people who we trust, appreciate and depend on in our daily work, whether they be family members or colleagues. Besides, I had to get another chance to wear my sari!
We all left with hearts happier and stomachs full, having a shared candlelit Diwali that we will treasure for years to come.