Today, November 2, is All Soul’s Day – a day when, in the Christian tradition, persons remember those who have passed and pray that their souls are granted eternal rest. On this date, images of my maternal grandmother always come to the fore. I still see her: Lighting a candle in memory of her dearly departed and reciting prayers on the rosary that was always at hand, having faith that her supplications would be heard. The ritual was solemn but not sad, and even as a child I felt the importance of the tall white candle that she watched over as dusk turned to night. A light that dispelled darkness. Just as diyas all over the world will do this weekend for the Hindu Festival of Lights.
I am not Hindu, but Divali is one of the many festivals celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago in which the population as a whole generally participates, regardless of religion. Presentations are given every year at assemblies in primary and secondary schools, Hindu families invite neighbours and friends to their homes to celebrate and share in sumptuous banquets, and throughout both islands persons of all ages gather to light and enjoy elaborate displays of diyas erected on bamboo frames. There is no doubt that the concept of light conquering darkness is one that most of us find heartening.
Since it has been a long time since I took part in Divali celebrations, I decided that I could observe the festival in my own small way this year. Needless to say, the lady at the Indian grocery seemed genuinely intrigued that I not only knew about Divali, but was also buying diyas along with cotton wicks, coconut oil, Madras curry powder, tandoori naan and tamarind concentrate. We had a nice chat about my homeland and at the end she extended an invitation to attend tomorrow’s festivities at the local Hindu temple. Wow! Just like that I felt like a neighbour and friend.