Dhooooom Let's celebrate!

WITH MANY from across the globe having made Chennai their home, the city has become a melting pot of different cultures. Thanks to this expatriate presence, our taste buds have savoured new culinary flavours, our ears are tuned in to new musical sensibilities and our eyes have been treated to new architectural styles. But have we influenced the expatriates in equal measure?

To answer that question, let us examine one aspect of culture - festivals. Festivals have always been the biggest vehicles of cultural diffusion. Now, let us take the festival that is round the corner - Deepavali. Does this festival float the expatriates' boat? The answer seems to be "yes".

A fellowship of expatriate women, Overseas Women's Club of Madras (OWC), strikes a blow for city-based charity organisations. Its president, Melissa Blackley, who is Australian, expresses her admiration for India and its culture not just in words, but also through her actions. She has named one of her daughters India. And Melissa celebrates Deepavali the traditional South Indian way. From the lighting of the traditional kuthuvilakku, she has all Deepavali-related proprieties down to a fine art. "We invite a few friends over for the festival," she says. Sweets are made at home. She does not think bursting crackers is the most important aspect of Deepavali. Nevertheless, she ensures some rounds of pyrotechnics "for the sake of my daughters India (5) and Holly (2)."

For John Lynch, Deepavali "seems to reverse the order of things." As director of Cookie Man, Lynch feeds the city's sweet tooth all through the year. But on Deepavali day, his neighbours at his apartment complex in Abhiramapuram, and his friends bring him sweets and other gifts. The Deepavali season keeps Lynch on his toes. He goes to bed late and gets up early. "Cookie Man is flooded with orders and we achieve 50 to 60 per cent more business during this period. Deepavali is the time to express our goodwill to our clients. We surprise them with gifts," says Lynch.

The expatriates are no strangers to bursting crackers. In fact, this aspect of the festival reminds them of festivities back home that also thrive on liberal doses of fireworks.

"Deepavali is reminiscent of the big day in the United States - July 4," says American Lynch. In the U.S., it is a national holiday marking the anniversary of "the Declaration of Independence in 1776." It is also a day of cannon crackers and sparklers.

"From the media, I gather that Government authorities here emphasise a belt-and-braces approach to Deepavali. The U.S. authorities also share such safety concerns," says Lynch.

"Deepavali reminds me of the Chinese New Year celebrations," says Yang Jiayu, chef at Shanghai Club, the Chinese restaurant at Chola Sheraton. Yang is a resident of Chennai since 1999.

Chef Yang's 13-year-old daughter Meng Xi thinks fireworks are like the proverbial curate's egg, some parts of which are good and others bad. While sparklers such as flowerpots and pinwheels are right up her alley, she gives ear-splitters such as candle-bombs, whiz-bangs and torpedoes a wide berth.

To Meng Xi and other expats, the greatest quality about Deepavali is the opportunity to meet friends and exchange gifts. They seem to know that crackers and good food are features that have been added to make the festival more interesting. They are just the bells and whistles, not the be-all and end-all of Deepavali. The essence of the festival is communion.

Recommended for you