A Lockdown Diwali: recreating the Festival of Light away from home

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As someone who came to Durham with little knowledge of the lack of diversity in the North East, it’s fair to say I’ve become fairly white-washed. Especially coming from London, where my friends and family are from a wide mix of cultures and backgrounds, Durham seems like the complete opposite. And as grateful and happy as I am to be here, it sometimes can feel a little disappointing or dampening to have left my own culture behind, particularly when Covid-19 has restricted me going home for Diwali, a time that would typically be spent stuffing my face with sweet treats, endless phone calls to extended family members, and the house booming with light and colour.

This year, I knew there would be little chance anyone would be able to celebrate their religious and cultural holidays in the normal way. A Zoom call doesn’t quite reach the normal levels of celebration, but this is all I was expecting, and the idea of organising all of my Indian family to find a time to Zoom seemed just a little ambitious.

A Zoom call doesn’t quite reach the normal levels of celebration

So I approached the weekend with very few expectations. And the day I ended up spending was quite a sweet surprise, albeit in a lockdown.

With the worry that her only child might be homesick during what should be a family event, my mum was fully prepared in posting all my favourite Indian treats to me last week, leaving me plenty of time to indulge my housemates and boyfriend in the sweets and savouries of a new culture. From cling-filmed home-fried goods, to slightly crushed chocolates, a student who has absolutely no experience (nor luck) cooking anything more exotic than pesto pasta was over the moon to be able to finally have a taste of home. Instead of the fried smells of Indian delights wafting through the halls, I was treated to enough Indian snacks to keep me going for the rest of the week, if not the rest of the term.

I was treated to enough Indian snakcs to keep me going for the rest of the week

Whilst that would have been enough for me, and I planned to treat the rest of the day just like any other Saturday in Durham, my not-so-ethnic boyfriend had entirely different plans. Whilst last year he hadn’t celebrated Diwali for me as I’d travelled home, this year he was taking full advantage of the fact I was locked down here, with only him to celebrate, and not just with a take-away and some tealights.

Having spent far too many date nights in the last two years begging him to watch an Indian film with me, he finally agreed to for our weekend of culture, as I invited him into the romantic, hilarious, and slightly chaotic world of Bollywood. Although he couldn’t quite hide his eye rolls and bewilderment at the family entertainment that is Dostana, I was more than touched that he’d been willing to give up a footy night to watch a film we both knew he wouldn’t be able to understand (even with the subtitles).

The fact that we were watching something my parents would have on the TV on a typical weekend at home brought back all the nostalgia I’d pent up over the last few weeks in Durham. Although I originally feared being homesick and melancholic this weekend, I was over the moon that he’d created a magical Diwali movie night for us.

I was over the moon that he’d created a magical Diwali movie night for us

It wasn’t just to celebrate Diwali. It was more to celebrate the fact that we were doing something special, whether culturally, religiously, or romantically, in the midst of a pandemic, whilst I was four hours away from home, celebrating such a big part of my culture as best as we could.

Whilst I may not be the most cultural or religious, at a time like this, it’s hard to be apart from family. So the fact that I was made to feel so at home and so special in Durham was enough to make this year’s Diwali a memorable one.

Image: Anshu A via Unsplash

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