Spreading The Diwali Cheer
Everyone has their own fond memories of the Festival of Lights, be it childhood recollections of bursting firecrackers back home in India, or shopping with their family for goodies. This year, we've decided to round up the many things that make Diwali so special - the diyas, the fashion, the food, and the kindness of strangers - and showcase how it's lighting up the UAE. And what better way to do so than through our own enthusiastic residents?
The Fashion Designers
Two years ago, Dubai-based sisters Bhavna and Shweta Daryani opened their very own boutique, Reet, and to say it's done well ever since would be quite an understatement. The designer duo is young, talented and fashion-savvy, and they have a knack of giving dreamy, traditional designs a modern, chic look - perfect for a more youthful crowd. It's no wonder they're absolutely swamped during the festive season.
"Orders start rolling in by the 1st of October, and will go on till December or so, which is generally considered the wedding season," explains Shweta, the younger of the two.
However, it's Diwali that has a special place in the girls' hearts. Every year, the sisters get into the festive mood by coming up with their own rangoli pattern, and work on it nonstop - sometimes for nine hours or more. Meeting friends and family is also important, and with that comes one of their favourite part of the festivities - dressing up!
"I think there's always more pressure for us," Bhavna laughs. "Eveyone says 'you guys are designers, you'll will obviously have the best looks!' But to be honest, we've been so busy with client orders, we've barely had time for ourselves!"
It's tradition to wear something new for Diwali, which explains the high demand. The event marks the beginning of a new year for those celebrating it, and dressing up is an important part of starting afresh. "People look forward to Diwali to look good, feel good and spend time with their loved ones. In that way, Diwali and fashion go hand in hand," says Bhavna. "Being brought up in Dubai, it is one festival that takes us back to our roots!"
The sisters will be spreading the Diwali spirit through their chic designs, which will be on sale until November 1. They've also decorated and lit up their boutique. And, if that's not enough, this year, the girls have collaborated with Inder Bhagnani, founder of the Feed a Labourer Project, to distribute sweets among construction workers on October 30.
The only thing left to know about the fashionable duo is what they're thinking of wearing to the festivities themselves
"My personal favourites are ankle-length lehengas, and midi skirts paired with fun crop tops," says Shweta. Meanwhile, Bhavna is thinking of something much more edgy. "I would love to wear an Indian jumpsuit because that's definitely trending. Something that is heavy. but also simple and stylish."
Reet will be running its Diwali sale till November 1. For more information, you can follow them on Facebook or Instagram
Food is an integral part of each and every festival, and Chef Pradeep Khullar knows this well. Originally hailing from Delhi, the charismatic chef behind the restaurant Jodhpur in Al Murooj Rotana previously worked in London and Bangkok before settling in Dubai earlier this year. In fact, he's just gearing up for this first Diwali in Dubai, and has already excitedly launched Jodhpur's set Diwali menu, with each dish being carefully chosen to invoke a feeling of nostalgia.
"To me, Diwali is a festival of joy and lots and lots of food," he explains cheerfully. "I have fond memories of visiting friends and relatives, buying gifts for them, eating with them, and coming back home with your own set of gifts and sweet boxes."
And he hopes to recreate those feelings of joy by taking classic Diwali dishes, and giving his own spin to them. Take for instance, his Kale Patta Chaat served with feta curd, tangy spices and watermelon pieces - it is a unique twist to the popular chaat dish you'll find in any home come Diwali. His mains consist of favourites such as Tawa Kheema, served with 'Pygmy pao' (the buns are adorably shaped and smaller than ones we're used to - an attempt by the chef to cut down on our carb intake!). Dessert is a twist on a sweet that no Diwali is complete without, which is why his Coconut Barfi Tres Leche is sure to delight any customer with an inkling of festive traditions.
"Even my palate cleanser, served between meals, comes shaped like a tiny popsicle," he says. "It take me straight back to my youth when I used to buy a popsicle for Rs1 and then eat 70 per cent of it. and 'sell' the remaining to my sister for 50 paise! This is what food is all about! Food has the power to rekindle your memories - to transport you back to your younger days."
Having spent his last few Diwalis in other countries, Chef Pradeep believes that the festive spirit is just as strong - if not stronger - abroad than in one's home country. He credits this to the fact that people living abroad go the extra mile towards inculcating the spirit of the festival. "For one thing, people want to dress up and celebrate. At the same time, they want to raise their children the way they've been raised, and teach them the same values!"
Which pretty much explains why people around town will be putting their best foot forward during Diwali.
"The best thing about having a set menu is that every course comes with options, and if you come with a group, you really get to sample a lot. So my advice would always be to come in packs. I'm going to do my best to make people feel welcome. What I'm looking forward to most this Diwali is to meet, greet and wish my customers."
Jodhpur's special Diwali menu will be on till October 31 and costs Dh135 per pax for vegetarians and Dh145 for non-vegetarians.
The Candle Maker
(Bhawna Sehra is the founder of Palm Lights)
Ras al Khaimah resident Bhawna Sehra is a self-professed candle addict. Before she got into the business of making them herself, she was buying them in all shapes, sizes, colours and costs. But despite paying a bomb for each candle, she was rather disappointed to note that the primary ingredients mostly remained the same - paraffin.
"It's the most common type of candle because it is versatile, and can be moulded into a variety of shapes and sizes," she explains. "But in the end, it is a byproduct of the petroleum refining process, and these candles can release a slew of toxic chemicals when burned, including benzene and toluene. Moreover, the fragrances in them are usually synthetic compounds, manufactured in laboratories, and aren't good for your body."
Bhawna started researching, which is when she stumbled onto palm oil wax. Unlike paraffin, palm oil wax is not genetically modified. It's all-natural, and studies show that they burn cleaner, efficiently and longer, making them a good choice for your health and the environment. Bhawna decided to go a step further, and created candles infused with essential oils most commonly used in aromatherapy - and her company Palm Lights was born.
"These candles are for people who appreciate eco-friendly projects," she explains. "They are not as versatile
as paraffin candles, as they cannot be moulded into a variety of shapes
and sizes. But their performance is so amazing. They look really pretty, last twice as long thanks to their high
melting point, and are perfect for real candle lovers."
Diwali is a busy time for Bhawna ("it is called the festival of lights, after all"). Every year, she brings out a new limited festive collection and, this year, she's released a range of henna-patterned candles. The thought behind it is to showcase the bright colours of Diwali - reds, blues and greens - with a delicate Arabic influence. And, in the spirit of the festival, she's also discounting her collection till Diwali.
"Lighting candles is the perfect way to get into the festive mood. When I was little, we would start preparing for Diwali by selecting the lamps we wanted to burn at least three days in advance," she reminisces. "I would always get the task of making sure the diyas outside were always burning. Even today, I remember exactly how to light those candles."
This season, she hopes her eco-friendly, health-conscious candles will bring the same cheer to people around the country. "I hope they can bring that festive feeling into other's homes."
To get your own eco-friendly candles, you can place orders through www.palmlights.ae
- The Pink Mango Project
The Pink Mango Project may have only started earlier this year, but it's already impossible not to have heard of it. It all started when 23-year-old Rohit Sharma, who had previously volunteered for the United Nations, decided he wanted to do something to spread more happiness around the UAE. It was such a simple idea, he thought, and yet, something that is often overlooked.
He managed to team up with other friends of his - Sweta Pujari, Chirag Patwa, Adrian Fernandes, Ishant Chibber, Akash Pandey , Shamishka and Mark Jefferson - and the group financed their first operation with their own money.
"We approached a labour camp, and took the labourers to At The Top, Burj Khalifa," says Rohit. "This is something I've wanted to do for years, but I wasn't financially settled before. The idea stemmed from the fact that labourers are the people who create infrastructures like these, and they don't get to experience it themselves! Which is why when we took them to see it, they were so happy!"
A lunch and then a movie screening - all done at the team's cost - followed. "We simply approached organisations and once we explained what we were trying to do, got discounts. The rest we funded ourselves because we're all lucky to have disposable incomes. That's how it all began. We took the idea of happiness and watched it bring the community together."
Since then, they've distributed roses and stressballs to strangers, and they're currently planning their next event, to spread a little Diwali cheer, at a camp housing 2,000 labourers. The group will be doing so by collaborating with Amled School, which will be distributing sweet boxes to the labourers, and Mohsin Events, which has generously offered to light up the labour camp at a discount. Gifts and games will also be organised.
"I have an uncle who used to stay in a labour accommodation, and I used to see how people there lived. Luckily for him, my family was based in Dubai, and we could always come and help.
But those who don't have support, can't go anywhere because it's too expensive! A lot of labour camps are also located in places a bit harder to reach. I knew that having lights and decorations on Diwali will make a big difference to
The event is to be held on October 30, and Rohit has no idea what the reaction will be like. But, we think it's safe to assume it'll be good.
"To be honest, certain reactions honestly cannot be portrayed in words. We're trying to make this as special as we can, and I know they will be happy with what we are trying to do"
Those who wish to know more about the project can check out www.pinkmangoproject.com
- The Goodwill Tribe
(Sonia Parekh and Chandni Sawlani pose during their event, held on October 21)
Gifts are an essential part of Diwali - or any festival for that matter. And as great as it is to receive them from friends and family, there's something unique about receiving them from strangers. Which is exactly the thought behind The Goodwill Tribe's latest event.
Founded by Dubai-based Chandni Sawlani and Sonia Parekh, The Goodwill Tribe was started to 'foster deep human connections through small acts of
kindness', as Sonia explains. Since
their inception in 2013, these little acts of kindness have spread, and now The Goodwill Tribe holds regular events in different parts of the world - from Sydney in Australia to Pune in India. But their goal is always the same.
"We want people to learn to let go of their inhibitions and trust strangers," explains Sonia. "Kindness is such a simple concept, and we want to create a space where people can just be trusting of each other - beyond race and culture."
Over the last three years, The Goodwill Tribe has run a series of small, but impactful, events, and the ones that have truly resonated with audiences have been turned into projects. One of their most successful to date is their Gift of Giving project, held annually. The idea is simple - through word of mouth, volunteers and social media, people around the UAE are asked to donate anything lying around the house that is in good condition. The team then wraps donations up, puts inspiring messages in them, and simply gives them to anyone and everyone who walks by, in an effort to brighten up their day. This year, their event was held on October 21 at the Dubai Flea Market - right in time for Diwali.
"Everyone loves gifts," says Sonia. "And we always do this right around the gifting season because that's when everyone is in the mood to give and spread joy. Which is why we thought the timing - onset of Diwali - is perfect."
And the reaction was rather phenomenal. For Sonia, the most amazing thing was that almost every person who stopped by the stall immediately understood what they were trying to do, and was touched.
"People's eyes would just light up," she adds. "It was beautiful. The energy is immediately uplifted. In other stalls, people were bargaining, but over here they were usually taken aback, in a good way. That was our intention - to make them happy!"
The team took it one step further by setting up a giant noticeboard where members could write about the things that made them happy; some residents refused any of the gifts, but wanted to be a part of the board, anyway.
"We wanted the Gift of Giving project to start a conversation with people coming to the stall," says Sonia. "We wanted them to pause and really understand generosity. Understand joy."
For more information on The Goodwill Tribe, check out www.thegoodwilltribe.org