“Hello everyone, and congratulations on this fantastic virtual Diwali festival which is bringing the spirit of Diwali into people’s homes while helping to keep people safe,” Boris Johnson said in an online video statement last week.
His statement was the first time I was hit by the harsh reality that this is the first time I will be spending Diwali without my family. Just like me, millions of other Hindus, Sikhs and Jains have been left to improvise with their Diwali plans after the announcement of a month-long lockdown in England.
All of us have made huge sacrifices since the pandemic hit, and I understand and respect the need for a lockdown. But with the recent call for action to ‘save Christmas’, I found myself asking whether Christmas would get cancelled in the same way Diwali has – and if our nation would even abide by the rules if it was.
Diwali is the Indian festival of light, and it also represents the start of a new religious new year. It honours the goddess Lakshmi, and celebrates the return of the deities Rama and Sita to their kingdom after a fourteen-year long exile. It’s a chance to celebrate the victory of good over evil.
The five-day festival is also a time to celebrate prosperity and positivity, but these messages are hard to keep in mind this year when I know I can’t see my elderly grandmother, who lives alone. Not to mention I am still recovering from personal and work struggles I faced in the first lockdown.
“I found myself asking whether Christmas would get cancelled in the same way Diwali has – and if our nation would even abide by the rules if it was.”
So as Hindus, Sikhs and Jains prepare to celebrate Diwali in lockdown, I’ll be trying to make the most of lockdown festivities. My Diwali celebrations usually consist of a visit to my local mandir, where I will wear traditional Indian clothing and help serve food to the many visitors celebrating the occasion.
Mandirs and gurdwaras are already known for offering free food to everyone, but this pandemic has seen the focus shift where many now run as makeshift food banks. This charity has never been more relevant than this year, where a growing number of hungry and homeless people are relying on the good will of others.
Going to the mandir is not a regular occasion for me, however my Diwali visits there are always special. My temple is specific to the Sindhi community I come from, and it gives me a chance to reconnect with others from that small group. Another day of Diwali is dedicated to my close family, we get together for dinner and games, much like most of us do for Christmas.
Perhaps my favourite element of Diwali celebrations is the annual house party my family throws. My mother makes mountains of food, drinks flow and we dance to a carefully curated Diwali playlist. Not only is Diwali party an occasion for my Indian family, but it’s also a chance for me to share my culture with my non-Indian friends along with my partner, whose life it has very much become a part of.
I know I’m not alone in slightly dreading the idea of being apart from family this year at Diwali. Speaking to others in my community to find out their experiences of how they will deal with it. One, Simran Sing from London, told me spirits will be low as they won’t be able to visit their in-laws as normal.
“While a video call can never replace the magic of all being in one room, I intend on recreating the hectic Diwali atmosphere.”
Many, however, are taking matters into their own hands and celebrating virtually. Kriti Sachdeva, who is Indian-born but who has now settled in the United Kingdom said, they usually go home to India to celebrate – “what’s Diwali without family?” – but will this year have to celebrate.
Similarly to Krtiti, I will be attempting to organise a Zoom with my family. I say ‘attempting’ because my family is spread across three different time zones.
On a usual Diwali, I’d have almost 20 of my family members crammed into my parents’ living room to enjoy drinks and nibbles. While a video call can never replace the magic of all being in one room, I intend on recreating the hectic Diwali atmosphere by inviting 16 of my family members from across the world onto one Zoom call for a catch up and a Diwali-themed quiz.
As for the religious element, I will be doing my first ever pooja (prayer) ceremony at home in an attempt to manifest positivity for the next year. Although I do not explicitly identify with Hinduism, I still find solace in expressing my spirituality through the rituals I grew up with.
In the true spirit of Diwali, I will celebrate the victory of light over darkness by lighting my candles, helping the community where I can and watching the fireworks from my living room window. I look forward to going into this Diwali with an open mind, but I also can’t wait to celebrate it in all its glory with the ones I love for 2021.
Katrina Mirpuri is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @katrinamirpuri
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