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Diwali: Far from home

Diwali marks the commencement of the Hindu New Year, a day to be grateful and celebrate with close family and friends. A day to start afresh, with traditions encouraging indulgence in a selection of delectable platters and gifts and the offering of prayers to Lakshmi Maa — the goddess of wealth and prosperity. 

It had been three years since the Indian students in the class of 2020 last celebrated Diwali. We decided that it was time to amend that. 

With one week of careful planning, we celebrated Diwali with a guest list of 20 people. The preparations commenced in the morning with multiple grocery trips to Walmart and Kroger, buying ingredients for a three-course meal. 

For appetizers, we decided to make an Indo-Chinese dish called vegetable noodle Potli made by frying dough with a mix of vegetables, spaghetti noodles and various spices served with Sichuan sauce. 

For the main course, we made pav bhaaji, mashed vegetables with a tomato and potato base and chole chawal, chickpeas in a tomato, onion and garlic base with cumin and other herbs. 

Finally, for dessert, we settled on gajar ka halwa, a pudding made with carrots, clarified butter, sugar and dry fruits. 

This whole process took up most of our day. But all of this would not have been possible without help from our friends who volunteered in cleaning and decorating the house and preparing the food. 

We stationed idols of Hindu gods in a small shrine and decorated the make-shift temple with flowers, candles and incense sticks. Following that, everyone dressed up in traditional Indian attire to join the evening celebration. 

To start the evening, we lit all the candles around the house and offered the first portion of the food to the gods. 

Next, we started the Diwali Aarti playlist on Spotify and joined in to pray together. We lit the Diya, an oil lamp and did the Aarti, a Hindu ritual of worship, which was followed by a lot of dancing on some Bollywood beats and finally, the food. 

The highlight of the event was that everyone came together to prepare the food. This kind of camaraderie made us realize that, apart from all the things that made Diwali worth celebrating, like dancing and dressing up, are not just frivolities. 

It’s all about everyone coming together and helping each other, about sharing the joys of having each other and being thankful for having people you can now call your family. 

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It was Diwali, the festival of lights — the joyous music of laughter cascading through the candle-lit staircase around the house, the aroma of freshly ground spices and guests jamming to Bollywood classics, the feeling of belonging to a home away from home. 

To the nights that turned into mornings and to friends that turned into family. 

Happy Diwali!