London Through A Cultural Lens: Diwali

Alizeh Agnihotri, BA Development Studies

When I was younger I waited patiently for the month of October for two reasons: my birthday and the festival of Diwali. Home isn’t missed more than at the time of a festival. Since India is a secular country, I have a reason to celebrate once every month, sometimes even twice. However, Diwali is special. It’s a festival of togetherness.

Throughout my life, at this time of the year, I’ve been used to my house being over-crowded with family members, so many of whom I’d be meeting for the first time. This year, however, it was different. I had to spend my time away from home in London. A few days before Diwali my homesickness began to grow exponentially. I craved my grandmother’s home cooked food, I missed my cousins, and most of all I longed for the excitement that would come from burning crackers. It occurred to me only the night before Diwali that there is an extremely vast Indian community in London, and, despite the different weather, the festival is celebrated just as enthusiastically as it is back home.

I started my evening by eating warm and spicy Indian food in Southall. The area was flooded with other Indians like me who wanted a taste of home. With cuisine so authentic, if I closed my eyes and took a bite, I could have been in my grandmother’s teeming living room. I could already hear firecrackers in the distance, even above the sound of the loud Bollywood music playing in the restaurant. Just for a second, I didn’t feel alone. After I had finished eating, I went to visit a friend of my cousin who had invited us over to his place to light firecrackers and commence the night of Diwali with the traditional pooja.

When the crackers were finally over, we all gathered around the outdoor fireplace and ate traditional Indian sweets and shared our Diwali memories. I was surprised by the similar memories I had with the Indians that grew up in London. They had never spent a single Diwali in India, yet somehow they didn’t feel excluded. I felt guilty that I had made a judgment, but at the same time I was glad I did. If I hadn’t, then I wouldn’t have wanted to explore Diwali in London. It was due to my curiosity that I actually got to witness something truly special. Wherever a community is placed in the world, they never forget where they come from. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve never visited the country; it’s still something that resonates within you. Next year, I won’t be so lost, because this Diwali, I truly felt more at home than ever.

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