By Drashti Mehta
SPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE
Somewhere in the midst of many American households decorating for Halloween and skipping ahead to Christmas as soon as Nov. 1 rolls around, Indian Americans throughout the United States, myself included, adorn their houses with Diyas – oil lamps made from clay – and string lights to mark the arrival of the festival of Diwali and the Hindu New Year. Like most holidays celebrated in India, Diwali is a five-day event full of friends, family, festivities and most importantly food. Diwali, also known as the festival of light, celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. In essence, we take “new year, new me” to a whole other level.
The strong Indian culture is part of the reason I chose to stay close to home when it came time to choose a college. I couldn’t imagine not being a part of the madness that ensues during the Indian holidays. However, for many Indian students here on campus, they now find themselves immersed in midterms at Hofstra instead of participating in festivities. Leaving home to start college is a challenge in and of itself, but for many students that come from culturally heavy backgrounds, the transition comes with a few extra hurdles.
“Because I’m half Irish and half Indian, we would always add a twist to our basic foods by adding Indian spices. My diet has become much more bland and unhealthy since coming here. I’m used to an abundance of flavor that I can’t seem to find in the food here. One of the things I miss most is my grandma’s homemade mattar paneer [a North Indian dish that consists of peas and cheese similar to cottage cheese in a tomato based sauce]. She makes the paneer from scratch and my cousin and I always fight over who gets the most paneer. There’s also a North Indian restaurant called Utsav near my house that I love to go to. I would go there with my family for special occasions like birthdays and Mother’s Day.” said Maya Kaushal, a junior psychology major from Cromwell, Connecticut.
One of the holidays that hits Kaushal the hardest is Raksha Bandhan. Raksha Bandhan, which translates to “the knot of protection” shields a brother from all evil. This Hindu festival celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters. “I miss Raksha Bandhan the most because my brother and I are close but we don’t acknowledge it on a day-to-day basis. But, Rakhi is the one day where I set time aside to appreciate and acknowledge my relationship with my brother,” Kaushal said.
For Nandini Jhawar, a junior psychology major from an Indian household in Bangkok, Thailand, missing home is instilled by an activity rather than a holiday, “I underestimated how much I would miss dancing to Indian music. It seemed insignificant at the time but now I really miss it,” Jhawar said. “Just talking to my mom yesterday about baingan bharta [an Indian dish made of eggplant] made me feel homesick. My homesickness mostly kicks in when Navaratri [a nine-day festival that celebrates Goddess Durga’s victory over the demon Mahishasura, who represents egotism] starts until Diwali because everything happens one after another. Also, not being able to do firecrackers [during Diwali] makes me miss being in Bangkok.”
Fortunately, for both Kaushal and Jhawar, they now seem to have found their place here at Hofstra, quite possibly more than in their hometown.
“I always say I grew up in three different cultures because at home we were Indian and the apartment building we lived in was all Indian families so we did really big celebrations for all the holidays in my community, but at school it was a very American culture, and then outside of school the general public was very Thai. But here, there are a lot of Indian students so during the Indian holidays somebody would always bring me sweets or something and I would say my prayers,” Jhawar said.
“In my hometown, I’m one of the only Indian families, but here there are so many more Indian students to connect with here. It’s comforting to see other students that live the same lifestyle as me that have been raised with the same mindset and values that I have grown up with. I also like to decorate my dorm room to reflect my Indian heritage by putting Ganesh statues and Om symbols. Me and my friends like to go out for Indian food to celebrate Diwali or we’ll try to make it to the Diwali dinner that’s held here,” Kaushal said.
Sukanya Kansara, a first-year health sciences major from Coopersburg, Pennsylvania recently attended her first Diwali Dinner here at Hofstra. “I’m really glad that Hofstra encourages the exposure to culture, especially for me because I lived in predominantly white areas my whole life so I never really had an Indian community … when I came here I made so many Indian friends, which was new but also it kind of made me feel that Hofstra was more of a home,” Kansara said. “I have people that I can relate to which I didn’t have before so I’m glad that they do these things because it exposes me to my own culture which is something I didn’t really get at home.”