'Diwali is for family'

Diwali is for family
The Tekwani Family

Between lighting diyas and preparing sweets, the festival of lights remains an intimate occasion for families to get closer than ever. Dubai residents tell us about the traditions that bind them.


Janice Rodrigues

Published: Sat 7 Nov 2015, 3:50 PM

Last updated: Tue 10 Nov 2015, 9:35 AM

Come Diwali there always seems to be a million things to do. There's the cleaning of the house, preparation of a dozen different sweets (according to everyone's specifications, of course), decorating, shopping. The list goes on and on. And while most people grudgingly do these myriad tasks in the hopes of letting their hair down when the big day finally arrives, it is these little chores that actually prove to be a strong bonding experience for most families. This festive season, we talk to several UAE residents who tell us that when it comes to the big moments, it's always family first.
Read: 10 things you should know about Diwali
The Tekwani Family
Mona Tekwani, who hails from Gujarat in India, has been born and raised in Dubai, and when asked about how long she has been celebrating Diwali, she laughs and replies 'forever'. A doctor by profession, Mona lives with her parents and younger brother, and is a staunch believer that Diwali is the most highly awaited festival for a large portion of the expat community.  
"From childhood we are used to looking forward to the laddus and the gifts (although after you grow up, it's more about the dusting and the renovating!). But the true spirit of the festival starts when people are still celebrating Navratri. That's when people start cleaning the house, buying new things - from clothes to curtains - and looking up rangoli patterns for the year. Until the day of Diwali, we are all busy, as a family, preparing different things and fixing up the nooks and crannies of the house," Mona explains.
However, she is also the first to acknowledge that as the years go by, traditions also change - from festivities with more pomp and show, to intimate gatherings with just those who are near and dear. "Initially we used to invite loads of guests and have a huge celebration. But I guess, as we have grown, things have mellowed down. Nowadays, it's all about the family. We have a rule in my house, that during Diwali we all have to be together - whether it is a simple dinner at home or even just having ice cream out."
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In many ways, the festival of lights is not just for close family, but also for those who rarely get a chance to see each other. "It's an excuse to meet," she explains. "Even if you haven't seen anyone for over a year, all is forgiven if they come to your place during Diwali!"
Mona suggests that families can make the weeks leading up to Diwali all the more meaningful by sharing the tasks. For example, allotting the kids 'clean up' duty, while the adults do the shopping and the elderly get busy preparing sweets. "Just like any other festival, it is all about getting together and contributing towards preparations. Maybe an evening party with flavourful Indian dishes is just the motivation everyone needs to start helping out!"
Finally, what truly brings the family together are the traditions. "It may sound like a cliché, but lighting of the diyas is my favourite part of Diwali," says Mona. "After all, it is the festival of lights and when the lamps are lit, the entire house looks beautiful. It brings in such a warm feeling."

What does Diwali mean to you?
"It's a feeling of oneness - of everyone coming together, forgetting petty things like status in society and forgiving the little mistakes. It's about being grateful for what we have and thanking God for what has been given to us."
The Minocha Family

Kanav Minocha and his family moved to Dubai 11 years ago, but he is the first to admit that Diwali is something celebrated with the family - irrespective of the location. "We've been celebrating every year as long as I can remember - no exceptions!" the Dubai-based accountant explains. Having moved from Delhi, Kanav, his parents and his younger sister love celebrating the glittering festival, and their preparations usually start weeks beforehand.  
"It can be something simple like meeting up with friends, having a meal together, playing different games. This all usually starts a month before Diwali, and the weekends leading up to the festival are usually fully booked."
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However, as the day draws nearer, it is all about family, Kanav explains. "On the day of Diwali, especially, there are certain rituals that absolutely must be done at home, so we all stay in and do that. That's also when I get to spend time with my parents and younger sister. Then there's food to be prepared... After we're done with everything, it's time to head out - so we can get together with other relatives!"
So how does the entire extended family usually bond during the festive season? "We do all the usual things such as lighting diyas together. But the best part of Diwali is that it is a good enough excuse for everyone to meet - and that is a party in itself. Once the entire family gets together, it's fun, no matter what we do. We eat together, relax and play games. It's an easy-going, happy atmosphere, and even if someone is worried about something that's going on in their life, it's easy to forget all about it."
What does Diwali mean to you?
"Diwali is about the three 'F's - family, food and fun!"
The Geriya Family

Priyanka Geriya, who lives in Dubai with her family of six isn't just happily anticipating the festival of lights - her family started preparing for it a whole month in advance. "I was born and raised in Dubai, and we have so many relatives and friends who we celebrate with every year, I never feel like I am missing out on everything just because I'm not in India," she explains. "My family always begins with getting the house spick-and-span, about a month before - so in that way, Diwali is a good influence on us. My mum starts preparing snacks well in advance, and there are gifts to be bought as well. A lot of people start coming over. It's really the days leading up to Diwali that are very important to us."
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A media professional living with her mother, father, two brothers and sister-in-law, Priyanka and her family always make it a point to celebrate together, and to date, have never been apart during Diwali. In fact, because her younger brother will be travelling this year, it is the first time the entire family is not around. "Diwali is all about doing certain traditions together. Like cleaning the house together - we do so because we believe that only when the house is clean and tidy can positivity and goodness come in. We also love lighting up the house as it is a sign of happiness and knowledge, and to welcome prosperity to our home."
"But of course, the best part of Diwali is polishing off a lot of sweets and snacks with the family!" she adds.
Being part of the active Gujarati community also ensures that the families have plenty to do, as the community organises events for everyone to be a part of, and it is this tradition that she credits to keeping the family close. "It's basically organised for those who do not stay near by," explains Priyanka. "On one day - generally the day after Diwali, which is our new year - everybody, even those living far away comes together and greets each other. It's a great way for everyone to catch up."
What does Diwali mean to you?
"It's all about bonding with the family - sharing the happiness with your close ones. I love how it is a combination of fun, spirituality, family bonding and so many other things. It's what we look forward to every year. People usually get so caught up with life, but occasions like this bring them all back together."

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