“May the supreme light illumine your minds, enlighten your hearts, and strengthen the human bonds in your homes and communities.”—Unknown (As seen on Times of India)
“What a life we have!” I exclaimed to John, my husband of nearly 30 years, as we sat down for a late evening dinner.
It was Saturday, and our workweek had been a whirlwind, but that evening had been spectacular. I recalled a statement made by one of my friends, Christine, earlier in the day during a lunch get-together and found myself repeating her words to John.
“We are truly blessed.” Then, I added, “No matter the bills, we are truly blessed.”
Of course, John, being his ever sarcastic, and realist self, retorted, “We’d be a lot more blessed, and could bless ourselves more, if we had everything paid off.”
While John and I do not know the ladies in the picture on the left, they graciously posed for our picture. Right picture is of one of our former students, Ajay Neginhal, and his beautiful mother, Sapna.
While I felt both the humor and the reality of his comment, I continued to feel contemplative and inspired as we had just left the Tristate India Association’s Diwali celebration held annually at Cabell Midland High School. As John and I both currently teach in the same school, many of our current and former students were performers in the evening’s festivities. Additionally, several more students and staff were in the audience. The celebration was lovely, full of displays of generosity, positivity, love, and mutual respect. I could not help but feel my heart overflowing with hope, optimism, and gratitude in spite of the realities of life.
Former and current students gathered to celebrate Diwali. Top to Bottom, then right: Emily Blatt, Naveen Joseph, Angelina Bir, Nishi Chowdhury, Maanasa Miryala, and Heidi Short.
As best I understand it, (I do not claim to be an expert, and I ask forgiveness from readers in advance, if I explain something wrong.) Diwali is a festival of lights celebrated yearly in either October or November, depending upon the Hindu lunar calendar. It is not only celebrated in India, but also in several other countries, including Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Fiji to name a few. Additionally, it is not only commemorated by those of the Hindu faith, but also by Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists. However, it is the basic tenant upon which Diwali symbolizes and honors that persons of all faith backgrounds can agree upon, “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.”
The beautiful Bir family celebrate Diwali and insist on taking pictures with me.
In a world often filled with division, derision, and discord, Diwali appears, based upon my limited understanding, to focus on the sweetness and goodness of life that can be attained through a commitment to faith, family, education, work, and community. Thus, as I looked around the auditorium and observed people of all faiths, not just Hindu, coming together respectfully and quite joyfully, I could not help but feel encouraged. Hopeful for not only our daughter, but also for the students John and I have taught, past and present.
These adorable girls dance and celebrate Diwali with their family and friends.
The family-centered atmosphere delighted John and me, and we were especially amused by buoyant and excited children of all ages, vibrantly adorned. We watched in awe as women of all ages, shapes and sizes, dressed the most vivid colors and sumptuous-looking fabrics, were honored and celebrated. Distinguished and dapper men of all ages, clad in colorful clothing, helped hold babies, patiently delayed performances for family members trying to change costumes, talked with the audience about the importance of giving back to the local community, and even turned up the lights for crying toddlers, who had become suddenly scared, when the house lights were dimmed for the performance.
Left to right: Dr. Kalpana Miriyala, Dr. Pushpa Joseph, and Dr. Vinod Miriyala at the 2018 Diwali celebration.
Police officers, Tri-state dignitaries, and various community leaders were recognized, honored, or even given donations for their various works of charity. Abundant, and seemingly endless, trays of what appeared to be traditional Indian foods were offered to guests for an hour or more before the start of celebration. Additionally, after the first song, performers walked off the stage and out into the audience offering small bits of food. Countless hugs, kisses, cheerful greetings, and affirmations could be heard throughout the evening. I could not help but wish I could bundle all this positivity up, and send it out into the world, allowing it to envelop all of humanity with love and light, peace and patience, and an overall sense of community . . . the, we-are-all-in-this-together sort of attitude. But alas, I am a sentimental, dreamer . . .
Our student, Maanasa Miriyala, dances in a performance at the 2018 Diwali celebration.
One of narrators of the evening’s festivities, as he defined and explained Diwali to audience members, who, like myself, did not have a background, referred to the famous words attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. He encouraged all in attendance to go out and be a light unto others, living the change we wished to see in the world. This line, and its variations, is so often quoted, it sometimes falls on deaf ears.
Current students, Angelina Bir and Nishi Chowdhury, dance in a performance during the 2018 Diwali celebration.
On this evening of Diwali, however, my ears listened as Gandhi’s words rained over me. I was bearing witness to one group’s attempt to not only offer light, but also be the change they wished to see in the world. No, they were not trying to convert those of us of other faiths to their faith. Rather, it felt as if the TSIA was demonstrating the understanding, tolerance, and dialogue that are possible when we concentrate first on the similarities we have with others, rather than focusing on the differences.
It was a beautiful evening with an even more beautiful lesson to be learned.
“From untruth lead us to Truth.
From darkness lead us to Light.
From death lead us to Immortality.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.”—Brhadaranyaka Upanishad
More pictures from Diwali!