Ruchi Ghanashyam is a career diplomat who retired as India’s High Commissioner to the UK in May 2020, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic storm.
Here she looks back and reflects on her time as an envoy based in London as she joined the ‘iGlobal’ DiwaliFest2020 virtually from India and shares a message of warmth for the Indian diaspora in Britain.
The festival of Diwali is a time of joy and celebration for Indians across the globe. Like Christmas in the Western world, Diwali is a time to exchange gifts of sweets and dry fruits, clean and decorate the home, get new clothes for the whole family and catch up with family and friends. The festival day itself is even more special, as homes are brightly lit with little diyas, candles and fairy lights. Being the Indian new year, even adults become children and burst firecrackers with their children on this auspicious day.
Diwali symbolises the victory of good over evil as Lord Rama, goddess Sita and Lord Lakshmana returned to Ayodhya after 14 years, after defeating Ravana. Residents of Ayodhya lit lamps to welcome them, making Diwali the Festival of Lights!
Day of joy for all
Diwali is not just a Hindu festival. It is widely celebrated across communities in India and the Indian diaspora. It was listed as a festival for Sikhs along with Vaisakhi by Guru Amardas. Sikhs also celebrate Bandi Chhor Diwas on Diwali, as Guru Hargobind was released from prison by Emperor Jehangir along with 52 Hindu kings on this day. Diwali is the end of the year for Jains and the passing commemoration of the 24th Tirthankara Mahavira and his achievement of moksha.
Many Buddhists celebrate Diwali by lighting lamps and celebrating Gautam Swami Buddha; the day on which Emperor Ashoka decided to follow the path of Buddhism; and the return of Gautam Buddha to Kapilavastu with followers after 18 years. Muslims and Christians often join the Diwali celebrations of their friends. Diwali is, thus, a day of joy for Indians all over the world and grand celebrations are a norm.
This year Diwali comes at a time when the world is battling a global pandemic. Countries in Europe, including the UK are in their second lockdowns. Online Diwali celebrations have replaced the usual Diwali festivities. The India Inc. Group organised their ‘iGlobal’ DiwaliFest & Awards 2020 online.
It was initially somewhat disheartening as India Inc. Awards are a grand event every year. Having attended last year’s celebrations, I was left wondering how this year’s celebrations will keep up with the past ones. The online event made its mark in its own way.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson appreciated the safe way the festival was being observed and expressed the hope that Covid will be overcome just as, on Diwali, light triumphs over darkness. Home Secretary Priti Patel also gave a special message, as did other dignitaries.
Covid has disrupted normal life, with a devastating impact on the economy everywhere. Declining economies have led to job losses, students are dealing with online classes and worries about their future, everyone is struggling to cope with a new life of isolation and lack of social interaction.
The joy of Diwali must also reach people facing these struggles, especially the young students far away from their homes and families. The Indian diaspora has been at the forefront of supporting those less fortunate. The spirit of Diwali should re-energise the spirit of service within the diaspora so that the joy of Diwali reaches all homes.
Let this Diwali mark our victory over Covid, and bring joy, success and prosperity to everyone!