The time of festivals is when being away from home hits you the most, when all you want is the loving comfort of family and close friends to share the joyous occasion – reminiscing of get-togethers from days gone by and wondering when is the next time you will experience that joy (not to mention the good food that only people at home can make!) ….
Then again, like everything else in life, you find a way to celebrate on your own and make the most of your existing situation.
Needless to say, that’s exactly what I did… : ) In my own way, I celebrated all the festivals that I would have celebrated in a small way at home.
Starting with Navratri in October, I went for the first night of Garba organized by the Indian Association at the only temple in Edinburgh (which is surprisingly enough an old church under renovation at the moment for it to be converted to a temple!). As goes without saying, Gujjus will be Gujjus no matter where in the world they might be…. So the dancing and the jumping was fun as always. Following that, Dasshera was very low key with just a small make shift pooja at home for me and my first attempt at making atte ka sheera (still needs a lot of improvement, but well its the thought that counts!). Edinburgh's Indian Association did also apparently have a very nice parade with fireworks etc. (which was even featured on television in India) but the deadline for my first assignment prevented me from attending it… hopefully I’ll still be here next year to see it then… who knows?
Subsequently, Diwali was celebrated with full pomp and show (albeit one week in advance). The celebrations started with a party organized by the students’ association here. It was an enjoyable night that included the opportunity to wear a salwar kameez after so long and of course dancing to long missed and beloved Bollywood music! :) The evening also had the added benefit of making some new friends and catching up with some old ones after a long time.
In keeping with tradition, the next evening involved fireworks and a taash night. We lit firecrackers in an open field like area at the bottom of a small hill that is one of the tourist attractions in Edinburgh (called Arthur’s Seat). The location allowed for a view of the lights of the city and also fireworks that were being lit all over for a local festival here called Guy Fawkes night (a celebration for the foiling of a plot by a number of Roman Catholics who wanted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in England using gun powder in the 17th Century). Following that, though I didn’t play the game, being the banker in charge of earbuds, toothpicks and matches (our makeshift substitutes for chips!) was good fun while trying to decipher the ever complicated rules of card games (along with pizzas for dinner – cultural fusion at its height as always!).
So basically, while I tried to hang onto various small traditions in my own way, (including offering prayers for my books on Dasshera, buying something for my new home on Dhanteras and Lakshmi Pooja on Diwali), I did also terribly miss the diyas, rangolis, the phone calls, the noise, the lights and the excitement of experiencing these festivals back in India. My loving family did make up for some of that by sending a big box of goodies which included kaju katli and homemade besan laddoos among other things (along with some sweets that I was able to distribute in class). : )
My saving grace and a major source of comfort here comes from a close friend who I have known for almost ten years now (from school and then college days) and has been my pillar of support in this strange land away from home. She is the one who I spent all these festive occasions with. Besides helping me settle down (since she has lived here for almost 3 years now), I am lucky to share that closeness and reconnect with such a good friend after so many years of having lost touch. It’s also an amazing experience to see how each of us has grown and changed in our own ways and yet we can find that common ground that keeps us connected and lets us pick up where we left off. She allows me my space to grow and stand on my own two feet while I stabilize in this new environment and yet I know she is watching from a distance and will be there to catch me if and when I slip and fall… just knowing that support exists is a good feeling to keep you going in times like this when you miss family the most. : )
Among other advantages of knowing someone who has lived here, it is also very beneficial when it comes to shopping advice. Talking about festivals would of course be incomplete without shopping! And yes, I have done my fair share of that here as well – sticking, however, to utility things I will need in terms of warm clothing and boots for the dreaded upcoming winter. The best part of shopping here is that if you change your mind later, you have the option to return something after having bought it and you are entitled to a full money refund without any questions asked. Makes the experience so much better and hassle free!
As is expected from a multicultural environment, we also celebrated the festival of Halloween in end October. I still don’t know why exactly it is celebrated but we enjoyed figuring out costumes (from witches to hippies to even British girls!). The evening outing included attending a parade in the city centre where it was fascinating to see people dressed up in all sorts of innovative ways. The parade itself demonstrated some sort of ritualistic dance to the beat of drums and also had a show with fire – was quite interesting to watch. It was also kind of spooky, given Edinburgh’s history as the ‘Ghost City’ which has a Ghost Tour as part of its tourist attractions!
At the end of one festive season, I am now fully excited and looking forward to the upcoming Christmas season. The stores have already started beautiful decorations and lighting displays. If nothing else, days that end as early as 4 pm and don’t begin till 7.30 am already (not to mention the -2 degree temperatures at night sometimes!), are an indication that winter is just round the corner. As they say, “let the celebrations begin!”