Light has struggled to find a way into 2020, which was spent by most of humanity in a battle with an invisible virus. And yet, here we are, at a bend in the year that always means Diwali. A festival of homecoming, but what might that mean when so many months have been spent at home, barricaded against the virus, longing for the company of others? A festival of lights, but what could it stand for when mortality is a daily reminder? The answer lies in human resilience — our ability to reimagine our lives, and reach out to others.
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown us that challenge, and we have risen to meet it, with technology, science and social discipline. By upending lives, it has also underlined our interconnectedness and shared destiny. The experience of disease and death is not new to humanity; and it is a valuable reminder of the risks of human hubris on a struggling planet. It has also made most of us do a Marie Kondo on our lives, and separate the indispensables from the excesses. For most of us, what survives that reassessment are the essentials: Friendship and family, beauty and art, love but also community. When thousands of migrant workers struggled with destitution during the months of lockdown, an army of ordinary people reached out with food, shelter and transport. This Diwali, less brash and less noisy than the last, will be lit up with the knowledge that such empathy is possible. That the home, which is now school and office and kitchen rolled into one, can also expanded by imagining the lives of others. The teen patti party will move to Zoom, the pile of gifts will be shorter and the prayers more humble.
Finally, we will light a lamp, even in these darkest of times, because what else does darkness ask us to? To slightly adapt Leonard Cohen’s words, “Light the lamps that still can be lit/Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack, a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.”
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