November 15, 2020 6:30:07 am
Diwali is called “the festival of lights” because it is literally a celebration of light and illumination. Diwali is a Hindi word, but it comes from the Sanskrit “deepavali”, which means “a row of lights.” The holiday symbolises for us the vanquishing of the ignorance that overwhelms human life and spirit, and the driving away of darkness with the light of knowledge and hope. We celebrate Diwali in order to embrace the positive values of this life, and to leave behind those thoughts and memories that cloud us in darkness. It is celebrated with great pageantry across the world today, and it is a festival that always leaves me in deep thought.
This year my thoughts turn to America. It is only recently that I have returned to India after over two decades in New York. And, so, this Diwali season I find myself thinking of the recent presidential election and how the young nation has, with great celebration and joy, emerged from ignorance to knowledge, from despair to hope, from darkness to light.
I well remember the despondency that overwhelmed many Americans when the unthinkable happened and Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States. Shock and dismay only paved the way for the horror that grew minute by minute as we witnessed the heinous acts and deplorable decrees he and his sycophantic administration normalised over the next four years.
It has been a dark time. But light that comes at the end of a tunnel is brighter than any other. At the end of this tunnel, many Americans have found true patriotism for the first time in their lives — the longing for a land that holds “justice for all.” For some, the revisionist history they had been fed all their lives was suddenly exposed, and their eyes were opened to the injustices suffered by the minority, the marginalised, the disenfranchised, the other. The light brought new understanding at the same time as it seared self-satisfied consciences with white-hot truth.
The empathy and knowledge, pain and sense of loss for one’s country made compassionate people realise that something this horrific and ugly must have some truth and meaning. It must come to some better end. Of course, how to achieve that better end, how to emerge from the tunnel into the light, is a choice that must be made by each individual.
For some, it is a question of whether violence and hatred could be an acceptable means of seeking justice. When bad things happen, it is easy for a human to turn into an animal of the most vicious type. But the ones who make an attempt to invite forgiveness and find ways of renewing their faith in each other are the heroes. Few want to find strength to build the bridges needed and repudiate the ugliness of revenge that is the cry of the moment. For those few, the road to be taken is the one towards love and hope. Some choose this road because they themselves have found sadness in death and tragedy in pain, and the past has made them accustomed to such realities of life. They know, that in this time of light, we must forgive the other in peace as we work toward justice in order to endure the next tunnel we face together.
Today, the world finds itself subsumed by the pandemic. I wonder how many of us globally are seeing true light while living and breathing in synchrony with darkness? Or, are we only seeing the lights that decorated our homes these last several days, reaching its zenith yesterday on the occasion itself? Are we able to tunnel through the gloom of fear and sickness, of death and economic downturn? Are we resolute about seeing the universal light that exists all around us and in us? A light that shines its spectacular glory when we rise above our isms and come out of our safely comforting communes to connect with the other whose life and light is connected to ours. The other, whom we must first see for who they are, accept their rightful place in our collective, and with that behind us, light up the universe with genuine goodness and peace.
There was and remains, in many hearts, a hope to find new life after the troubles that all have witnessed. Somewhat like the story behind Diwali. When I look at the light emerging from the darkness, I am reminded of the universal spirit of Diwali. The premise of appreciating light through darkness, embracing differences to celebrate unity. The last two weeks have given me great reason to believe in the larger good that prevails in all of us, across oceans. Irrespective of our beliefs, our spoken languages, or our ethnic makeup, we all want the same magic to touch our lives. We all have dreams. We all have love to share and crave. We all want to grow and support each other. We all rise and fall, laugh and cry, breathe and eventually stop breathing. Diwali reminds us that the light that lives inside each of us has but one form. It truly reaches us all, around the world, wherever and whoever we may be
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