I am not sure if I should call ourselves immigrants or expats. We are originally from India and have lived for about five years in the UK, before we moved to Dublin, Ireland – my husband’s work brought us here as it brought us to the UK before that.
However whether we are really Indian expats in Dublin or immigrants, there’s one thing common with both these experiences. And that is a sort of yearning, sometimes interspersed with loneliness. Don’t get me wrong. Living in different countries is great – it gives you an opportunity to experience people and places that you wouldn’t have otherwise and it also brings a great deal of perspective in life. But often you could be lonely. At least initially till you find friends or families that you enjoy being with. Friends that you can celebrate your festivals with.
There’s a strange sense of displacement when you move countries. You lose your network of extended family and friendships that have been cultivated since many many years. If you have moved at a relatively later stage in life, you might also face a slightly odd problem – do you make friends that easily, compared to when you were younger?
This was our first Diwali in Dublin. For the past five years or so, Diwali was spent with friends and family in the UK. Before that it was with family and friends in India. So as Diwali approached, I felt a mix of both – excitement and an unresolved dilemma. Would Diwali feel like Diwali in a new country?
For most Indians, Diwali is perhaps the biggest festival of the year. In different parts of India, one celebrates it in different ways and customs but it is almost always about family, friends and neighbours. You make a point to visit and greet your extended family of aunts and uncles, cousins and nephews and nieces, as also friends. It is not uncommon to exchange platters of sweets and savouries with your neighbours. Evenings are a blur, going from one home to the other, seeking blessings, greeting, eating, talking and coming back home with a little cash (those who are older than you gift you a little something for Diwali. It could be a box of sweets, an envelope of cash, a dress or dress material…)
So it was quite a pleasant surprise that Diwali this year did feel like Diwali. And it was in good measure because the four Indian families in our apartment block decided to bring it in together.
On Diwali day, we fashioned a sort of greet and meet – on the lines of what one would do back home in India. So we (three out of the four families) started by all going together, with husbands and children, to the neighbours at the fourth floor. She served us vadas, Mysore pak and an assortment of other snacks that had come all the way from her mother-in-law in Bangalore. After feasting and chatting with them, all of us, with the fourth floor neighbour included went down a floor to our third-floor neighbours. They fed us hot samosas and pani puri and soan papdi. We then came to our place. The husband had prepared a home made poha chivda and a dessert made from milk and dry fruits. I also had an assortment of other Gujarati snacks.
After our place it was the turn of the neighbour at the ground floor. She served everyone phirni and dahi bhalle.
It was a most delightful afternoon stretching into the evening. We laughed. We shared stories, the children played with each other. We discussed the nuances of each of the snacks we served each other. Our homes came alive; all silence and loneliness was dusted away. In the evening, we parted ways. (And oh, I forgot to mention, the women and children decided to wear traditional Indian outfits, reminiscent of what we would have done, had we been in India.)
The next day, we gathered again, but this time we headed to a restaurant in the city centre to avail of a buffet lunch. As we sat down for a meal together, filling our plates with different starters, main courses and desserts, we revelled in a shared sense of festivity. In the evening, another neighbour from another apartment block in our complex came home with her husband and daughter. Again the evening echoed with conversation, laughter and mirth. We talked about the lovely cuisine found in the part of India they come from – Hyderabad. We talked about biryani and haleem, food shows such as Raja Rasoi aur Anya Kahaniya (roughly translated it would mean Kings, Cooking and other stories) which explored the royal cuisines of different cities of India and the local as well as foreign influences on these recipes as well as the different ingredients used in different cities, and their origins and history.
So this immigrant/expat’s Diwali was far from lonely in Dublin. There were two happy days. Two days of feasting and conversations and decorating the house with diyas and rangolis and flowers and fairy lights.
The highlight this year was also the homemade decor. One of my neighbours is amazing with art and craft and she made me a fireworks toran, a paper rangoli, paper diyas and marigold flowers. A friend from Reading had gifted me acrylic rangoli and painted clay diyas and another had gifted me a Ganesha decoration. I used everything for my Diwali decor.
I have to say that when evening came, and the diyas were lit, the fairy lights switched on, the agarbatti ignited, the house lit up like a newly wedded bride, beautiful and fragrant in her many embellishments and accessories.