Happy Diwali! A Festival of Lights Illuminating Joy & Kindness

Following on our U.S. celebration, it seems appropriate to share how we also celebrated India's holiday of Diwali. Jason and I joked with our travel companions Dipti and Tushar that we were at risk of leaving India with a deep misperception. Ready to declare to all of our friends that India is simply a very festive country; fireworks a nightly routine, the streets filled with holiday lights - EVERYDAY!

This was truly because we happened to be traveling through the country during the five-day festival of lights, Diwali.

For the first few days in Delhi we saw fireworks and statues sold on the roadside and heaps of marigold garlands offered for holiday decorating. Hearing fireworks at night did become a routine, and set our minds at ease to loud unexpected noises, because it was just part of the celebration. We arrived in Jaipur for the biggest night of Diwali, Lakshmi Puja, named for the goddess of wealth. Our hotel gave us a full experience of the festivities, including the lobby floor decorated with rangoli to welcome the goddess inside.Before dinner we were invited to the parking lot for fireworks and sparklers with the staff. Dressed in his recently purchased sherwani, Jason was quickly mistaken for a member of the staff himself when a fellow guest asked him where they could throw away their spent sparkler. Jason was chagrined, but then cheered when the hotel manager's father spotted him and applauded Jason on his wardrobe choice. (Very similar to his own.)We had to tease Tushar, though Indian in heritage, he was out-dressed by his American friend, even after tossing on his wife's pink scarf for a photo. In the heat of our days in India, Jason understood why Indians favor the light cotton pajama-like sherwanis. And I wonder if I may find him lounging around the house this summer in his India pajamas.

Afterwards, dancers performed by the pool. The nearby body of water was reassuring since the traditional Rajastani folk dance involves dancing while balancing lit fire pots on the head. We were later pulled up "on stage" to dance as well, but thankfully without fire. (This felt like one of our goofiest tourist moments, I don't even dance at weddings!) However, in the escape of a vacation we gleefully enjoyed the Diwali night of celebration in Jaipur.

The following day we asked the hotel manager what celebrations there might be in the evening, we understood that Indians celebrate with fireworks every night? She laughed at our feigned cultural innocence.

It was a fun time to be in India, and more sentimental for the intimacy we were privileged to share with our travel companions. We heard Dipti and Tushar talk to their parents and siblings each day with the greeting, "Happy Diwali!" Our driver Kamal introduced us to Diwali sweets by pulling off the road to hop into a sweet shop.

We were enormously touched when, at the end of one day's driving, he sheepishly and quietly handed us four packages in pink foil wrapping. Diwali gifts for us, from his $100/month base salary. It was beyond an English to Hindi translation to try to tell him how overpowered we were by the small gesture of kindness. (Picture frames to hold our travel memories. I confess I haven't even unwrapped one of them yet, because it feels so special and treasured. Like the only way to capture the power of human kindness is pink foil wrapping stamped with elephants.)

Jason later reciprocated with a gift that meant a great deal to him, his Ohio State jacket a gift for dinner on our last night with Kamal, (besides the well-deserved tips he earned for navigating us across Rajasthan, since OSU apparel is not yet a currency recognized outside of Big 10 Country.) It might reflect a universal truth, that sharing the holidays together, can bring you closer to your family, your friends, and even strangers you came to know for just two weeks...and hopefully left considering them a friend.



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