FESTIVE SPIRIT/AWAY FROM INDIA M20
To me, Diwali has always meant crisp fall air, an afternoon that has gotten dark surprisingly early, and squeezing in a puja (prayers) and an elaborate dinner between homework, the kids’ extracurricular activities, and a school-night
This is Chicago, after all, not Delhi — where I would love
to be with family at this time of the year — and where it is
warm and the air is especially smoggy with celebratory firecrackers.
Ideally, holidays and the accompanying festivities should
help us to be grateful and joyous, but realistically, they can
also highlight loneliness or distance. So, in our Chicago fall,
which means decreasing sunlight and where my family and
I are separated from the rest of our extended family, it
seems especially poignant to celebrate the festival of lights
and to teach our children to appreciate its meaning.
On the morning of our previous Diwali, I dressed my
eager daughter, Simran, in a traditional salwar kameez.
She was taking popcorn to her preschool, along with a couple of storybooks about Diwali.
I was also dressed in a salwarkameezto collect Rajkumar
from grade school with my youngest one, Avinash, accompanying me.
My trip offered a couple surprises. First, an Indian
acquaintance inquired about my garb.
‘Happy Diwali,’ I responded. She was sheepish and said
she had forgotten.
Rajkumar’s teacher, who is not South Asian, saw me from
afar and called, ‘Happy Diwali!’ How refreshing to be
mainstream, but disheartening that someone from India
can still forget that it is Diwali.
At home, later that afternoon, I took my three kids out on
the front walkway to make a rangoli with colored sand.
That activity lasted approximately two minutes and was
complaint-laden: ‘Mom, the wind keeps blowing all the
I realized that any outdoor diyas would meet the same
fate, so I shrugged my shoulders, told the kids to let the
sand blow away, and we all went in. We lit the lights in all
into a work day
It might not be akin to the festivities in her native Delhi,
but Sonia Kumar makes the most of Diwali in Chicago
COURTES Y: SONIA KUMAR
the rooms and my mother and I kept at the dinner and
As a way to recognize all of our family members, we traditionally write each member’s name and whereabouts on a
poster board. We also include the stock market valuations for
the day. Diwali is about wealth (all kinds), after all.
It was a hectic day, but when we finally sat down
together to do the puja, my husband, mother, and I were
reinvigorated by our prayers while the children enjoyed
the setting of everybody being together and a different
With dessert first (Halwa as prasad), a scrumptious dinner and presents, the children were thrilled with their
That night, just a little bit later than our normal bedtime,
I tucked the kids in.
The reflections from the diyas in our mandir(thetemplein
thehouse) were still dancing around the hallway, the
agar-batti(incensesticks) scent was present throughout the house,
and from outside, rather than the sound of fireworks, I could
hear the Chicago wind howling them to sleep. ;
Diwali in New York. While large-scale celebrations in the
US happen on weekends before or after the occasion,
Sonia Kumar her husband and children, above, celebrate
on the day the festival is meant to be celebrated
Sonia Kumar lives in Naperville, Chicago, with her three
children, husband, and mother. She has a master’s degree in