This is my first time being away from my home in Delhi for Diwali. I am a freshman at San Jose State University and got an opportunity to visit a Diwali Mela locally in California. It was held at Memorial Park, Cupertino on the 8th of October.
The day was lovely and the vibrations were full of energy on this pleasant Saturday morning, with families and children brimming with joy as their long-awaited festival season was finally starting.
Poetry on Diwali
As part of the cultural program, I got to hear some poems, in four different languages, offered by the group Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley. Dr Bachani, the founder of the group, greeted the audience with the sweetest “Ram Ram” on this auspicious occasion, and half a dozen other poets lined up on stage.
Dr. Bachani invited Anjali Kauser of Cupertino Chamber of Commerce to do the honor of unveiling the cover of a new anthology of poems by their group, called Starry Night: Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley, with a beautiful poster showcasing the enlarged cover, with a set of eyes. Dr. Bachani invited the poet whose eyes were on the book cover, Praghalba Doshi, to get the poetry reading started. The artist who took the cover photo, Moitreyee Chowdhary, was also present and celebrated with applause.
Pragalbha performed an original poem called Awakening, a short yet impactful piece. It set the tone for the other poets as she urged the audience to listen attentively. She then took over the MC role and called upon Debolina Sinha to read her poem The Plains of Serengeti from their upcoming anthology. It talks about a traveler through the wilderness of the Serengeti, and the beauty within the journey that the poem took me in.
Srikanth Jonnakuti followed Debolina, by presenting a unique palindrome poem in Sanskrit Vilom Kavya to the audience. When heard forwards, the poem tells the story of lord Rama, and in reverse, it becomes the story of lord Krishna. Next, he continued to recite a very sweet and melodic Telugu poem about Shri Ram. Even though I did not understand the words, because I do not know Telugu, I still enjoyed the rhythm and cadence, and noticed how different it was from the Indian languages I know.
Alka Roy performed her original piece on theme Thodi Si Diwali, a beautifully written poem with a mixture of Hindi singing and English oration, conveying what every Indian immigrant must have felt here. Nostalgic Hindi film music combined with a modern and energetic monologue, a blend that filled my desi heart. The audience responded with applause.
To mellow down from the goosebumps, we headed towards a Hindi poem, Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena’s Tumse Alag Ho Kar, a very heartfelt poem read by Dr. Bachani. Orated slowly and softly it comforted all of us, away from our loved ones, as Ram was away in exile in the forest from his family in the epic story of Ramayan. The line mai apna akaar aur rang kho chuka hu made many of us fall silent. The power of words was evident when the mood changed completely with a companion poem, also by Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena, Tumhare Saath Rah Kar. We got to hear this in its English, translated by Dr Bachani. Even in translation, it managed to capture the audience by evoking the tantalizing emotions of the original.
I wish it went on for the whole day, but the performance came to an end with a few closing couplets by the Saint poet that everyone from that part of the world has heard, Kabir’s dohas. The one to bring mindfulness to your meals –
Sai itna dijiye, ja mein kutumbh samaye
Main bhi bhooka na rahoon, Sadhu na bhooka jai
Or the one for motivating the procrastinators amongst us:
Kal kare so aaj kar, aaj kare so ab
Pal main parlay hoyegi, phir karoge kab?
Dohas small enough for kids to memorize and old enough to unlock another set of memories that most of us could relate to. Kabir is still taught in school Hindi classes in Delhi. The experience of being at such an impressive celebration, listening to poems in many different tongues one can hear in my hometown Delhi, but that are rare to hear here in public spaces, and being around my people felt as close to home as I could get this Diwali. Diwali is a festival that is meant to be celebrated extravagantly. The mela did exactly that and a little more for the community, leaving our hearts full.