Let There Be Light

Photo by Praveen kumar Mathivanan on Unsplash

Let There be Light

Photo by Praveen kumar Mathivanan on Unsplash

While many in the South Asian community at HBS celebrated Diwali—the festival of lights—far away from their homes, some found their own ways to make up.

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Sapan Shah, Community Editor

The Indian festival of Diwali fell in the first week of November this year (the dates change every year according to the Hindu calendar), right after the Halloween weekend. For many RC South Asians, it was the first time they celebrated the festival away from their homes, families and friends—less than ideal for any holiday. However, some enterprising Indians took it upon themselves to recreate the magic, and have the rest of the HBS community join in.

Prateek Panghal (MBA ’23) and his fellow Indians from RC Section H started off by planning a small group dinner in an SFP apartment, but the guest list quickly snowballed. “We had severely underestimated the scale of the event and people’s enthusiasm to immerse themselves in global cultures,” said Panghal. The event ended up as a gathering of over 60 people in a huge Continuum lounge celebrating Diwali

Panghal continued, “For Indians in Section-H, Diwali was different this year. Most of us were celebrating Diwali away from home for the first time. While we virtually joined the festivities and rituals back home, it was nowhere close to the in-person experience, and it gave some of us unpleasant flashbacks from the circuit breaker. But if I may be allowed to quote our LEAD professor, this is where the frustration gap turned into the perfect opportunity gap. Driven by the curiosity and enthusiasm of our section mates, we decided to bring the Indian festivities to our family at HBS. After extensive planning, we procrastinated till the weekend before Diwali and began the preparations three days before D-day on three fronts that characterise Diwali—decoration, fun, and food, in increasing order of importance.”

Panghal and team jazzed up the Continuum lounge true to Indian traditions—from lights to diyas (oil lamps) to Rangolis (floor designs made with multiple colors and lamps), the place was set up in a traditional Indian manner. Section H showed up decked in bright colors—some borrowed from their Indian friends, who were more than happy to contribute. Somani Patnaik (MBA ’23) and her partner Himanshu took on the challenge of cooking Indian food for 60 attendees. After three days of preparation, they served a three-course meal of Indian delicacies. Panghal remarked, “the food was irresistible, and it was tough to get people away from the food to indulge in the fun activities. However, Bollywood dancing proved tough to ignore. The image of everyone learning how to do the thumka, a classic Bollywood step, was a highlight. The Diwali vibe had truly taken over.”

In organizing the festivities, Panghal’s goal was to give everyone a flavour of Indian culture, and rather selfishly, feel closer to home by surrounding himself with friends and family. “Safe to say, both objectives were met rather successfully. As we wrapped up the night and shared some Indian sweets to mark the end of a successful Diwali, we all could not help but share a tired smile of satisfaction.”

Sathvik Sudireddy (MBA ’23), recounts his own section’s Diwali celebrations. “The South Asians of Section J—we refer to ourselves as “Section (J)alebi”—came together to organize a Diwali party for our section a couple of weeks before the actual festival. The celebration took place at a section mate, John Guzek’s house in Cambridge. We placed diyas and candles everywhere (both inside and outside), played Bollywood music (of course), and told the story of Diwali and explained to our section why it is celebrated. Most South Asians wore traditional attire, and many of our non-South Asian section-mates also wore festive outfits. After the party, we went out to Candibar, which is a club in Boston that plays Bollywood music every Friday.”

The one challenge, as Sudireddy recounts, was getting access to fireworks—as they are illegal in Massachusetts and were sold out in many of the stores they were expecting to buy at. “Our section-mate Mihika Kapoor (MBA ’23) used her resourcefulness and called local restaurants in the area that used sparklers for different events and requested each of them if she could buy any extra that they might have. Fortunately, one restaurant was willing to sell and we drove up there just an hour before our party and were able to have fireworks as part of our Diwali celebration.”

Panghal fondly looks back on this experience, “the involvement of people in a completely new cultural experience, not only showed the social capital that HBS helps one build but more importantly showed how honest and involved people are in building that capital by leveraging the diversity around them. As global leaders and citizens, experiences gained from multinational events—flag day, international potlucks, and festival celebrations—are invaluable.”

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Sapan Shah (MBA ’23) hails from India. Before HBS, he worked in consumer goods and non-profit healthcare, and during the latter had been vital in the implementation of India’s HIV/AIDS control strategy. He spends his leisure time immersed in popular culture and quizzing.