Though known as the festival of lights, Diwali is all about family bonding, welcoming in the New Year with your loved ones and feasting on homemade traditional delights. Being the most important festival in the Hindu calendar, Indian families in the UK go all out and celebrate the festival with as much chutzpah and reverence as they would back home in India.
When Uma came to London in 1974, as a teenager, she missed the excitement of Diwali. “It was my first Diwali here in the UK and I had to go to school, which in India is unheard of because it’s a holiday and we spend it with the family!”
But as time went by and she got married, she ensured that she celebrated every Diwali in a grand manner with her in-laws. “Diwali is a special occasion and my family of 35 and I ensure every year we all come together to cook, eat, dance, celebrate and make the most of Diwali.”
Initially, she was stressed about whether her children would also follow the Diwali traditions like she did when growing up, but not anymore. “The youngest in our family is 10 years old and the oldest is 84 and it’s amazing to see the same enthusiasm for Diwali across the generations. What has made it easier for us to teach these traditions in our children is that unlike in the 70’s, supermarkets today, such as Asda, have a wide Diwali range, which makes us feel accepted as a community and makes it easier for our children to follow the same traditions. I feel Asda recognises the importance of the four days of Diwali and what the festival means to us as a community.”
Last year, she hosted her entire family of 35 at home. “It was brilliant,” she exclaimed. “I started the day with a Puja, then all the sisters-in-law came together to paint rangoli while the children burst crackers, then we all sat down for one big feast. It was a celebration of the true spirit of Diwali!”
While Asda helped Uma with the perfect Diwali package for her family, especially her kids – for Manavi Maharshi the supermarket gave her a sense of belonging. Reminiscing about her time in India, Manavi said: “The entire city used to light up and I remember my mother making farsans and mithai’s at home from scratch. When I came here ten years ago, it was the family bonding, the spirit of the community and my mother’s food that was missing. It felt like no one celebrated Diwali here!
“One day I walked into Asda and was pleasantly surprised to see their Diwali range. From fireworks to kala jamun to the masalas, everything was available there and I felt like I could recreate my mother’s magic here in the UK.”
With her brother and sister-in-law moving to London recently, she now ensures that she follows her mother’s traditions, whether it comes to making mathris or besan ka laddoos, so that she can make them feel at home as well. She does this by popping into her nearest Asda and picking up the ingredients.
While some try to recreate the festive feel of India here in the UK, for others Diwali in the UK is a whole new experience. When Manisha came here five years ago, she was surprised to see her mother-in-law cooking everything from scratch during Diwali. “In India we used to buy sweets and snacks from the nearest shop. But over here my mother-in-law cooks everything at home. Under her guidance I started cooking as well and for the first time I made besan barfi. It was such a memorable experience, and when the family praises your cooking it’s just another feeling altogether.
“Last year we had a big Diwali dinner at home, and guess what was on the menu? My favourite Besan Barfi and everyone loved it! When people praise your cooking, it makes you feel proud of yourself.
Being Punjabi, we also had chole bathure on the menu. From the chickpeas to the gram flour, Asda had all the ingredients on offer, which made it so simple for me to cook. This year, we have relatives coming over again. What’s on the menu? Well, that’s a secret but I can tell you one thing, I have found all my ingredients at Asda!”
Though we have covered different generations, and different stories, one thing remains common and that is the families making sure Diwali is celebrated the way it is back in India even though they are miles away from home. They do this with home cooked traditional food, family bonding, and lots of fireworks – with Asda being there every step of the way!