Trafalgar Square, White House aglow

Trafalgar Square, White House aglow


Trafalgar Square, White House aglow

                                               When Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, switched on the illuminations at London’s historic Trafalgar Square on October 4, 2009, British-Indians successfully marked yet another milestone in the success which the community has achieved all over the world. From the days of India’s colonial past till today, the fortunes of the Indian community in Britain — as also in USA, Canada and other countries — have changed to create a dazzling miasma of celebrations because of the huge success stories of the People of Indian Origin.

The celebration of the Festival of Lights in countries like the UK, the US and Canada is an example of this new multi-cultural mindset, which is central to Western democracies and Eastern brotherhood.

Dhol, dhamaka and the desi touch

In London, with the Mayor of London opening the Diwali festive season with goodwill messages, dynamic bands of the country playing Indian film songs, dhol players bringing joy to dancers, dance groups performing to stunning beats and people dressed in their festive finery participating in the pooja and aarti performed by ISKCON members, the mood is set for the coming days. Every major city in the UK will have its own public celebration of this festival, which is the highlight of the Indian calendar.

The landscape of Britain is today dotted with innumerable temples and these too, will be the centres of community worship. Diwali parties, Lakshmi pooja celebrations, rangolis decorating entrances to homes and offices are other expressions of the festival in the UK despite the fact that October is an autumn month and tends to be cold.

“Britain is determined to be a working multi-cultural society,” says Prabha Mehta, a senior manager in the Bank of Baroda in London. “All British people — white, Asian or African — know about the festival and its joyful celebration. They join the revellers at the community centres and in public places like Trafalgar Square. Actually, there are only two days in the year in Britain when we can light fireworks and crackers until 11 pm. These are Guy Fawkes Day and Diwali. Indians light up their homes and workplaces exactly as people do in India and the sweetshops are full of mithai exactly like in Indian cities. Today, mithai shops that sell every kind of delicacy as well as savoury snacks can be found in every British city, more so in London. People of Indian Origin form more than 3 per cent of the population in the UK, and Indian food is now considered a part of the official British cuisine. The shops are full of diyas — earthen and decorative ones — and people take pride in lighting up their homes to welcome Lakshmi. There are Diwali parties in homes, which include card-playing, fireworks and of course delicious feasts where family and friends get together,” she explains.

“The reason why British-Indians have won this recognition is very special,” says Avatar Gill, owner of a large grocery supermarket in London’s Southall.
Hard-won acceptance

“Indians came here a century ago and took every opportunity to work hard. They never availed of the social benefits the government offered. An example is that the Southall area, where more than 55 per cent people are Indians, has the highest number of Mercedez cars in Britain. Indians are counted among the richest people in Britain and are respected for their education and business acumen. Thus, their festival Diwali, is celebrated by the whole of Britain,” Gill explains.

Carnival time

Not surprisingly, British chain stores like Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, ASDA and others deck up their outlets with festive buntings and lights with Diwali shopping offers displayed attractively. Hoardings wishing everyone ‘Happy Diwali’ hang at their gates just as the message of greetings appears ahead of television programmes sponsored by companies in the UK. Jewellery shops in Indian areas advertise ‘Lakshmi coins’ and other gold and diamond jewellery for eager buyers who look for a muhurat bargain on Diwali day. Indian restaurants — some of them counted among the top 20 in the UK — offer special Diwali dinners and host parties for well-to-do business families. New businesses open and old ones celebrate their years of success. The fact that the British-Indian community is one of the richest in Britain has given Diwali a special glow in recent years, with most Britishers joining in the celebrations. Each borough of London, where British-Indian people live,  such as Hounslow, Wembley, Harrow, Westminster, Camden and Brent work with local schools to create spectacular Diwali programmes. Brent is known for organising the largest Diwali procession in the UK.
The theme that Diwali celebrates — the victory of good over evil — appeals to everyone. The prominence of British-Indians in the field of management, business, finance, education, sports and arts has given them extra importance in the social circuit of their adopted country. Many British-Indians belong to the third generation but have not lost their enthusiasm for celebrating their culture through festivals like Diwali. As a matter of fact, the longer they live in Britain, the more they seek their roots.

In the White House

The scenario is no different in USA or Canada. Both these countries boast multi-cultural societies where racial, religious or economic differences are sought to be erased by state policy. The US President began to celebrate Diwali in the White House in 2003. Ever since then, every succeeding President has held a Diwali reception at his official residence and invited over 150 guests for the party with traditional Indian food and Indian-style illuminations. The Indian American population stands at 2.3 million and has a growth rate of 38 per cent — the highest among all Asian communities — which makes the community important to American leaders. New York, Los Angeles, Washington, San Francisco, Chicago and other cities take the lead in organising fireworks displays and grand parties are hosted by prominent citizens.

In Canada, the majority of the Indian population comprises Sikhs and Gujaratis. Both these communities love celebrations and grandeur. Their increasing numbers in Canadian cities have brought their culture into the limelight with several new temples and Gurdwaras being dedicated by the Prime Ministers of Canada to the people of the nation. Here too, Diwali celebrations are a part of the cities’ social life and of the official calendar of the Prime Minister’s home. Family get-togethers, sweets and
fireworks form part of Canadian-Indians’ Diwali celebrations.

The attraction of the festival also lies in the fact that it symbolises the victory of light over darkness, right over wrong and justice over injustice. This is the dream of every human being and therefore, all can identify with the Diwali spirit.