My Voice - 2019


Diwali Sweets and Halloween Treats!

By Shivani Tripathi

In much of America, October can be such a lovely month. Leaves are slowly changing from green, to bright yellow, tangerine and crimson and the cool air provides respite from the mosquitoes that were buzzing all summer long. The comfort of hot chocolate, warm apple cider and kadak chai replaces the relief iced coffee, lemonade and sharbat provided. With adults firmly in the grip of work deadlines and school kids feeling like a lifetime has passed since a holiday, Diwali and Halloween give many Indian Americans reason to revel in the autumn season.

Even adults have been known to enjoy Almond Joy

Based on the Hindu lunisolar calendar, Diwali is typically observed between mid-October and mid-November and this year the festival of lights will be celebrated on October 27. Three days later Halloween will arrive on its regularly scheduled, Gregorian calendar date of October 31.

With both holidays falling within days of each other, for kids it could mean they'll see Indian sweets such as ladoo and barfi in the fridge, while trick-or-treating loot of mini chocolate bars and fruit-flavored candies will be stashed in their rooms. Even adults have been known to enjoy a mini Almond Joy along with a jalebi.

As a child growing up in a Colorado suburb, Halloween felt especially centered around kids compared to other holidays. It would be a day we would dress up in costume for a parade during school, and in the evening, we would set out for a familiar adventure. Only us kids would receive treats and the adults would have to follow behind us, instead of the other way around. Sweets of any kind and at any time bring glee to a child's face but the pride kids take in their collection was of a different kind.

It was part labor, which was walking door to door and equal part luck, hoping neighbors will be generous with treats such as peanut butter cups, chocolate bars and bubblegum lollypops. Tootsie rolls, butterscotch and peppermint candies were the most detested varieties which were inevitably thrown away. At school there would always be a few classmates who claimed to have received full-sized candy bars from a neighbor. Upon asking details the narrator would feign amnesia as to details of the magnanimous giver-of-full-size-Butterfingers. Along with treats there were also incidents of rotten tricks mostly carried out by teenagers, such as throwing eggs at homes or covering property with toilet paper.

Kids don't stand a chance against Desi parents

I remember a Halloween when the pumpkins and home-made paper mâché ghost my family decorated on our porch were found smashed in our cul-de-sac. Thank goodness nowadays many teens prefer staying-in and watching Netflix rather than playing mean-spirited Halloween pranks! Costumes played a significant role in Halloween festivities as it was an outlet to profess love for a character or bring a fantasy to life. More than once my sister and I were encouraged by our mother to dress up as Indian princesses and wear the lehenga sets and Indian costume jewelry our father brought from India, but the cold Colorado weather made it far easier to layer under baggy witch costumes. And under a woolen hat and scarf who could appreciate the twinkling maang tikka jewelry and multi-hued chunari anyways?

One school year my sister was coaxed into using Indian clothing to dress as famed Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. With mixed emotions she went to school with short, crimped hair decorated by a golden matha patti paired with a fuchsia-colored kurta. The confusion her fusion costume created was expressed the moment she came home and put down her backpack, as if throwing in the towel. Kids don't stand a chance against their jugadu, “Make do with what you have!", Desi parents. Today as an adult Halloween is spent celebrating at a party a friend has thrown, or helping hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. I give a special nod of approval to the kids who show up at the doorstep dressed in Desi garb. I think about my childhood and even commiserate with the kid, but now as a grownup also approve their costume choice for appealing to my adult sensibilities: it's quick, easy and budget-friendly!

The celebrations would be special, but simple

Compared to Halloween, Diwali was a quieter affair in the small American city my family called home in the '80s and early '90s. If Diwali happened to fall on a weekday, the likelihood of hosting or attending a party would be zero, as a school/work day along with a potentially lengthy travel time to a distant venue meant celebrating with family at home. The celebrations would be special, but simple. In Colorado fun fireworks, like rockets and firecrackers were banned, so the images from Hindi cinema my siblings and I associated with Diwali in India wasn't possible to create in real life. No fancy diya were sold in the lone Indian grocery store in the Denver-area so we purchased extra luminaries from the Boy Scouts to use for both Christmas and Diwali. After the family Lakshmi puja, we would sit down for dinner which included multiple homemade dishes my mother spent hours in the kitchen cooking.

Since my family's move to North Carolina we've celebrated Diwali the way a state with a more relaxed attitude towards fireworks and plentiful Indian grocery stores affords: beautiful diya, modest yet fun rockets, rangoli kits, and ready-to-gift boxes of sweets. Programs and mela are organized for Diwali provide a venue to celebrate with the community and educate the larger population about the festival of lights and its significance. There's something to be said about the fun in celebrating any holiday with a large number of participants. Not only because of the scale of festivities, but the sense of community the sharing of joy brings.

Last year for Diwali my friends and I, dressed in Indian finery, celebrated with a party that included a delicious spread of catered food, a professional DJ playing amazing music and gift hampers filled with goodies. The party was a smashing success, but the candles my family lit on quiet, snowy Diwali nights once upon a time still shine brightly in my mind.

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Shivani Tripathi cannot remember a time she wasn't madly in love with Indian cinema and writing. She spends time in New York, North Carolina and Twitterpur at @Shivani510