November 08, 2014

Happy Dawali!

Corrections to my post:
Gagan read what I wrote and offered these comments:

Diwali is also known as Deepawali.
The red lentil patties (made by a neighbor) are called vadas.

I've been invited to dinner next week for more Indian food. Sweet!
Creative Commons, courtesy of Indianhilbilly

At work, most of my co-workers are Indians. I am the only non-Indian female in our office space. Because I am nosy (though polite people would say I am curious), I often ask my co-workers about their lives here in the US, and at home in India. They've shared bites of their lunch (yummy and spicy), and we talk about what's going on in the capital city. I also got to explain what bacon was - most of my co-workers are vegetarians, so they have no idea what chicken, fish, ham, or bacon taste like.

Gagan, who sat beside me, showed me pictures of his wife and son, and told me about his travels from India to the US.

Since I've arrived, I have spent a lot of time by myself. Although I enjoy the peace and quiet, and like returning from work to an apartment that is as clean as when I left it, I miss being at home with the family.

Gagan told me about Dawali, the five-day Hindu Festival of Lights. Dawali spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. 

Even our office was strung with lights for the festivities. I saw lots of new clothes on my co-workers, too, and some henna designs on the hands of some of the young women.

During Dawali, houses are cleaned, new clothing is purchased for all family members, and toys for the kids, and sweets and traditional foods are prepared and eaten. Dawali is the biggest shopping season of the year. Gagan said it was like Christmas. Lights are strung, candles are lit, and prayers (puja) are made to to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.

So on the night of the new moon, I joined Gagan's family to celebrate Dawali.

Outside Gagan's home were tea lights and a rangoli by the front door. Rangoli is a design made of colored powders. 

Prior to showing up, I had asked if I could take pictures - and then promptly forgot to bring my tablet (as my camera is still in my desk drawer at home).

 Anjana, Gagan's gracious wife, and Soumil, the couple's wonderful five-year old son, were dressed in Indian clothes. Soumil asked his parents "When is auntie coming?" He wanted me to play with his toys. Though he's only been in the US for eight months, he speaks English pretty well. He's a busy, active boy, and I enjoyed spending time with him.

Since it was the Festival of Lights, I brought along a lantern with a candle. I bought Soumil some Halloween window clings (this is his first Halloween), and some Matchbox cars.

I was honored to participate in their religious ceremony, where prayers were sung (by Anjana) to Lakshmi. I got to hold the plate of offerings and wave it in a circle during part  of the ceremony. I am so happy that they included me in the ritual. I got a tika (some red powder and a grain of rice) on my forehead. Sweets were offered to the gods and goddesses.

After the ceremony, we returned to the dining room. Anjana prepared traditional foods. Sweets are a big part of Dawali, and are served first. We had galub jamun. It was very sweet. I don't have a food in mind with which to compare it. Soumil said it, like the mango juice he drank, "was yummy". Though I differ with him on the mango juice, I do agree that galub jamun is delicious.

Anjana served fried red lentil patties (can't find where I wrote down the name of it), and samosas, which were both served with a tamarind sauce (kind of sweet), and a sauce made with cilantro and jalapenos (I preferred this sauce). Gagan had already told his wife that I like spicy food, but I know she toned it down for me.

I am so grateful that Gagan and his family included me.

I look forward to our next get-together, and to learning more about the people around me.