& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Diwali in Toronto

Time flies.

It’s our second Diwali in Toronto. This year we did what Mahrukh described was the “NRI thing to do” – go to the massive Swami Narayan Temple complex in Toronto for the Diwali night celebrations.

The question about my identity is -- surprisingly -- becoming an issue.

I hadn't thought it would ever assume importance in my life. It's something I haven't been able to resolve to any degree of satisfaction.

Lately, I've been wondering what is it that is making me so conscious of my identity. Is it connected to my new status in Canada: "Visible Minority"?

Is my identity connected to my status as a minority? And therefore, does my identity necessarily need to have religious and cultural bearings? Visiting a temple on Diwali is not a religious thing for me. But is it merely cultural? Is this how most Muslims feel in India?

I don't know.

There aren't simple and straightforward answers. I don’t remember the last time I went to a temple prescient. It was probably in Ahmedabad when I had gone sightseeing the same institution’s main complex -- Akshardham. That was many years ago. Thereafter, some years later, terrorists attacked the complex.

Here in Toronto, the Somali cabbie who took us to the temple from Albion mall was awestruck at the number of people – and cars – that had assembled there.

There were thousands upon thousands of mostly Gujaratis from across Greater Toronto Area with a sprinkling of Punjabis and other Indians; but surprisingly not too many Sikhs.

We went to see the fireworks. It lived up to its billing. See the video. Sorry that took too long to upload. So just a photo.

Then, as most Gujaratis would do, I made a beeline for food.

There was the ubiquitous pav-bhaji and the quintessentially Gujarati dabeli. I heard a locally born and bred Canadian-Indian (who had obviously never seen a dabeli before) tell his wife, “Look, they’re serving burger style pav-bhaji.”

There were food stalls with spicy farsan, Indian-style Chinese food and vegetarian pizzas. And -- would you believe it -- papdi no lot (Che read that in English, and asked me "What's papdi?")

When Indians are with Indians, they behave as they do in India. So, there were no queues for food. There was groping and grappling. There was hollering and fisticuffs. There was chaste swear words, spoken in rough-hewn Gujarati.

Almost everyone spoke either English or Gujarati – both mixtures of the Navsari and the Etobicoke accents.

In the morning, we had lunch at a wayside Punjabi restaurant who was serving a Diwali buffet for less than $10. And we bought hand-made mithais cooked on by kerbside of the restaurant.

The owner was as happy serving us, as we were happy devouring the spicy Punjabi food, and watching a local Punjabi TV channel's special Diwali program.

We shared the table with a group of Jamaican-Canadians. They didn’t find the food spicy at all. Apparently, Jamaican peppers makes food spicier.

All this eating would make anyone resemble a beached whale. Sadly, I'm no exception. I’m now bordering on turning into a hopelessly obese North American – that’s just about everyone who’s a Gujarati in the US and Canada.

I’m bald, pot-bellied and old. And, all that extra weight is making me too full of myself.

Another event: I’m on Facebook. I wanted Generally About Books to be on Facebook. But that it didn’t quite happen the way I imagined it would.

No harm done. I see many familiar faces on Facebook. Most I want nothing to do with. Some I have reconnected with, and some who don’t want to reconnect with me.

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