Friday, November 12, 1999
Diwali: the Hindu Festival of Lights
Stepping up the walk of the Singhal family's Kimball Road home before Halloween, I was greeted by plastic ghosts dangling from the bushesspooky Halloween fruit. Just after Halloween, electric lights were strung up instead, in celebration of Diwali, Hindu Festival of Lights. The Singhals preserve the traditions of their homeland and participate in the customs of their chosen home.
Newlyweds Anil and Abha first arrived in "quiet, rural" Nashua, New Hampshire from Dehli, India in 1981. Anil had already earned his Master's in Computer Science at the University of Illinois, in Champain-Urbana, but when he was ready to settle down and marry, he returned home to find a bride. In accordance with tradition, their match was arranged by their parents when Abha's parents replied to a matrimonial ad placed by Anil's father in a Delhi newspaper. Abha had already received a BA in economics and had been working for a little over a year. He agreed that it was the proper time to marry. When the parents were satisfied that the two shared a similar family and cultural background, they arranged the formal introduction. Abha explains that she could have backed out of the agreement at any time, but all went well, and the two married the following year and began their new life in America.
From Nashua, the couple moved to Tewksbury. Anil worked in the software industry, then started his own company. Abha earned an MBA at UMass-Lowell in accounting, worked as a financial analyst, then retired to raise their family. They moved to Carlisle in July of 1997.
Typical American childhood
Their two daughters, Priyanka, nine, and Nikita, seven, are involved in a typical American schedule of activities-swimming, tennis, piano lessons, Girl Scoutsplus Indian dance. While the Singhals experience a warm sense of community, especially within the confines of their neighborhood, Abha remembers her childhood in India as much different, far less "overprotective." While she was expected to complete her homework and was not exposed to television until she was thirteen, she was allowed to come and go as she pleased. She and her girlfriends didn't need to ask permission before dashing over to the neighborhood park. Still Abha is happy to be at home when her own daughters come home from school.
Though far from the country where their parents grew up, the young sisters understand spoken Hindi. The girls can understand their grandparents during frequent visits,
In India, Abha's mother still walks to temple each morning.
Other traditions have weathered the move to Americasuch as the celebration of Diwali, Hindu Festival of Lights. On "the darkest night of October or November" (this year Sunday, November 7) many Hindu families string up lights outside their homes in a celebration that began, explains Abha, with the return of a king.
Return of the king
A long time ago a king had four sons and it was expected that the eldest son should become king upon his death. But the king granted the second of his three wives two wishes. First she wished that the King's eldest son, Rama, would be sent away into exile for fourteen years. Second, she wished that her own son, Bharat, would be made king. The king had to agree, and sent Rama away into the forest. Bharat was furious, and vowed to bring Rama back. But Rama refused to return before the promised fourteen years had passed. And so Bharat took Rama's slippers and put them upon the throne, saying, "I'll be the servant and serve the kingdom for fourteen years, and when you come back you will be the proper king." When, at last,
This year the Singhal family hosted eight to nine families for Diwali, in a potluck celebration that includes many traditional fried foods, such as samosas, pakoras, and kuftas. Their house was strung with lights. Later, when Christmas comes, they will also have a Christmas tree to the delight of the younger, more "American" generation.
Another Indian family
In the same way, Indian Christian families such as the John family of Concord, join their neighbors in Hindu celebrations, both in India and in America. Premi John explains that as Malabar Christians they belong to one of the oldest Christian sects, believed to have been founded by St. Thomas. She adds that all Indians are not Hindu. "There is a huge population of Muslims, Jews and Zoroastrians."
In India and America, traditions, language, and religions blend, some practices shared, while others are of necessity abandoned. Here in Carlisle, the Singhal family thrives in an elegant new home, the girls are happy and Anil's company, Netscout Systems, went public in August. When asked if they plan to arrange marriages for their own daughters when they are of age, Abha replies emphatically, "They will marry whom they choose!"
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito