• Growing up in regional Queensland, Diwali was always a quiet affair. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
I grew up in regional Queensland, so it’s fair to say that my experience of Diwali has lacked the frisson that it has in India, or even places with larger South Asian populations like Malaysia, Fiji and the UK.
By
Reena Gupta

25 Oct 2019 - 8:36 AM  UPDATED 4 Nov 2021 - 9:18 AM

I’m not that big on reality TV. I refuse to watch to real-life humans fight for ‘survival’ on an ‘island’, I still don’t know which Kardashian is which, and I will never, ever willingly watch a politician dance. But when the first season of Queer Eye debuted back in 2018 – a reboot that literally no one had asked for or expected – I was mesmerised. And not least because of the diversity of the makeover guests on offer.

Most people will have their favourite episode, but I have a soft spot for 'Saving Sasquatch'. It’s the one where we get to gawk at tech-bro Neal Reddy shift about uncomfortably as he’s slapped with the full Queer Eye treatment.

A couple of weeks ago, Neal – who happens to have South Asian heritage – posted a photo of himself on Instagram wearing a festive ‘Diwali sweater’. He said of the jumper: “I couldn’t think of anything more perfect for a Desi boy like myself caught in between two worlds”. 

Reddy also talked of his experience navigating his Indian-American identity in the US – a struggle that will likely ring true to the diaspora here. “I have always felt too Americanized [sic] to be accepted by Indians and thought I looked too Indian to fit in with most other Americans. Caught in between which is weird because I belong in both. I am American and I am Indian”.

Diwali is celebrated by people from a variety of religious backgrounds, including Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists.

But broadly, it’s about new beginnings – cleaning up, and celebrating the triumph of light over darkness. The date changes every year, but this year it kicks off on November the 4th, and the festival traditionally lasts for five days.

But Diwali has always been an uneasy time for me, as it’s always brought my identity as a third culture kid into full focus.

I grew up in regional Queensland, so it’s fair to say that my experience of Diwali has lacked the frisson that it has in India, or even places with larger South Asian populations like Malaysia, Fiji and the UK.

Diwali has always been an uneasy time for me, as it’s always brought my identity as a third culture kid into full focus.

Instead, it’s a dialled-down affair which involves a home-cooked meal at my mother’s house, tucking into mittai (my favourite is burfi, a milk-based dessert usually cut into squares or diamonds) and lighting candles to ward off the darkness.

But with Diwali comes a major case of diasporic FOMO. A nagging feeling that the other desis were hanging out without me. And let’s face it – they are hanging out without me.

I’ve grown accustomed to the holiday coming and going without causing so much as a blip in mainstream Australian culture. Year after year, I rarely bothered telling friends and colleagues that Diwali was upon us, but when I did, I would explain that it was ‘our version of Christmas’. In retrospect, this was a lazy analogy. Diwali isn’t particularly like Christmas – it doesn’t celebrate the birth of a deity and there’s no giving or receiving of gifts. But it was the quickest way of explaining to a non-desi how fundamental it was in terms that they could understand. Everyone gets Christmas, right?

That’s why I love these Diwali jumpers. I love how validating they are. They’re not about keeping quiet about the holiday as soon as you set foot outside your family home. They are loud and brazen and declare that Diwali is a kind of a big deal - so deal with it, ya filthy animals. And Happy Diwali.

Reena Gupta is a freelance writer.

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