INDIA ABROAD November 3, 2017 20 INDIAN-AMERICAN AFFAIRS
By Marialuisa Rincon
ast fall, as the days
grew shorter and the
Sheetal Parwal began
preparing her home for
The house was thoroughly
cleaned, clutter discarded and
colorful rangoli sand art laid out
to welcome friends and neighbors into her home to celebrate
the annual Hindu Festival of
Lights with sweets, extravagant
dinners and prayers to the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.
This year, Parwal and her family will celebrate a holiday meant
to bring good fortune and prosperity in a rented apartment —
their Katy house sitting gutted
miles away after taking on 2 feet
of water during Hurricane
"We came back to see a week
later," Parwal said. "But home is
Diwali celebrates the triumph
of good over evil, knowledge
over ignorance and hope over
Thousands of years ago, the
legend goes, a Good King vanquished a Bad Demon.
The tale and characters differ
— in northern India, Lord Rama
of Ayodya defeated his wife's
kidnapper, Ravana; southern
Indians believe it was Lord
Krishna who killed Narakashura
the day before the new moon —
but, always, light conquers darkness.
Oct. 19 marked the climax of
the weeklong holiday, and the
night sky, with its new moon,
will be illuminated with fire-
crackers and fireworks by almost
1. 5 billion revelers worldwide.
For many of the 120,000
Hindus in Houston, this year's
celebration was different, more
The two essential elements of
Diwali, Parwal said, are home
and family. Without a home, a
true home of their own, it's diffi-
cult to celebrate.
"The very meaning of the cele-
bration, we're unable to find
that," Parwal said.
"We are blessed that we have
our family together, but you have
an attachment to your home,
that's where you know you'll
spend Diwali every year."
Asian Residents Hit
Harvey's destruction was
especially pervasive in areas
where the South Asian population has historically settled —
Bellaire, Sugar Land and Katy
took on massive damage.
Parwal, 37, moved to Houston
from central India in 2008 — one
day before Hurricane Ike's winds
left millions without power.
Weathering that storm, she
thought she had seen the worst.
Her family lived with friends for
a few weeks before buying a
home in the Canyon Gate subdi-
vision. Nine years later, all 721
homes in the neighborhood,
including Parwal's, would be
inundated by Harvey.
"We could see it on that
Sunday, it was coming up the
front yard, and it was moving up
inch by inch," Parwal said "But
we still had that hope that it'll
come to the front door and go
Parwal's 6-year-old son, Ram,
has never known another home
beside the one in Canyon Gate.
At such a young age, she said, his
memories are few, but the holidays are especially sensitive.
"He relates all the firecrackers
and the celebrations with our
home," Parwal said. "Whatever
he remembers, he remembers
Her son is resilient, but after
almost two months in temporary
housing, he's ready to go home.
"He keeps asking when we'll
go and be happy again," Parwal
said. "But home is not the same."
Manohar Venuturupalli, 44,
his wife, Subhadra, and their
daughter, Neeharika, waited
downstream as the waters made
their way up the driveway, then
the yard and over the stoop into
their west Houston home.
Venuturupalli's home sits
squarely in the flood plain of
both the Addicks and Barker
reservoirs. When the beleaguered
dams were opened that Monday,
his house near Briar Forest and
Dairy Ashford was submerged
under 8 feet of water.
"I stayed up all night Sunday,
watching the water rising,"
By Monday morning, the
water was waist-high.
Venuturupalli and his family
are living in temporary housing,
working little by little to be able
to return to their home; he estimates repairs should be complete
in six weeks.
Venuturupalli and his family
were rescued from their flooded
home by a friend of a friend with
an airboat. "I don't know the people who evacuated me,"
Venuturupalli said of the man
who ferried residents of his
neighborhood out of their waterlogged homes to safety. "I don't
think I'll ever see him again."
Slow to Celebrate
For families that are still displaced, getting in the spirit of
Diwali may come slowly, Arun
Kankani is executive vice president of Sewa International, a
global nonprofit rescue organization with a chapter in Houston.
He said the organization prepared hundreds of care packages
with Diwali essentials — carrot
sweets, dried fruit, bangles and
the all-important lamps to light
the way to a new year of recovery. "Diwali is something you do
with your family at home,"
Kankani said. "So, without that,
it takes a lot."
Prosperity comes in the home,
Parwal said. To welcome wealth
and success for the coming year,
Hindus will often leave their
doors and windows open on
"This Diwali we're not at our
home," Parwal said. "But we are
together, so let's celebrate it
where we are and hopefully next
year it'll be better."
— The New York Times
For many of the 120,000 Hindus in Houston, this year’s festivities were different, more somber
Tamil Group Hosts Deepvali Event
Above, New Jersey Tamil Sangam members felicitate director Arun Vaidhyanathan at Deepavali
celebrations at the North Brunswick High School in North Brunswick, N.J., Oct. 22. The evening began with
a Carnatic music performance, followed by the highly anticipated drama, “NJ Big Boss,” by director Devi
Nagappan. The event concluded with “Druhva,” a Bharatanatyam presentation of the “Lion King” by Chitra
Ramaswamy’s Sanskriti school of dance, photo left.