Diwali, the festival of lights and one of the biggest celebrations for the South Asian community, has once again found its way to Trent. Each year the South Asian Association at Trent (SAAT) comes together to put on an event for Trent students to experience a small taste of home. Students were able to purchase a ticket for a night of food, performances, music and dancing, with an emphasis on the dancing.
Much like the festival itself, students from the South Asian community as well as others came dressed in colorful traditional clothing from saris and lehengas to salwar kameezes and kurta pajamas. Taking place in Champlain’s Great Hall, the night started with a chance for students to mingle and socialize, while a photographer took pictures with fun cut outs displaying messages like “I came for the butter chicken” or the shape of a cartoon bomb.
Around 7:30 pm, SAAT’s former finance minister and MC for the night, Samarjit Khaira, asked everyone to return to their seats so that performances could get started. The first performers of the night were SAAT Director of Events, Francine Vaz, Director of Publicity, Trisha Chandratilleke and Shivani Patel. The three ladies performed a beautifully coordinated dance to a mash up of the songs Nach Baliye and Naachde ne Saare. They also started their performance with small candle lights in their hands, moving them to the beat of the music in a dazzling display of what Diwali means.
After her performance, I was able to have a chance to sit down with Francine Vaz to discuss the planning of this year’s Diwali celebration. She explained, “We came to a unanimous decision that we didn’t want something that had already been done by the previous years of SAAT execs.” She gave the analogy that this year’s event “was a fresh page in a new book.” With a brand-new team of SAAT execs (President Alester Fernandes being the only person with exec experience), this was a chance for the team to make their own unique mark on a Trent tradition.
The next performer was also a SAAT exec, as well as a newcomer to Trent, SAAT’s First Year Rep Aakriti Pandey. Aakriti, standing out from the other performers, sang a delightful rendition of Kaisi Paheli Zindagani originally sung by Sunidhi Chauhan in the movie Parineeta. As a First Year Rep, it was important to hear what Aakriti had to say about why she wanted to perform at such a big cultural event.
“I love to sing, I’ve been learning classical for 6 years, and I love performing,” Aakriti explained when asked why she chose to perform. She also said that she felt “taking part in cultural event is really important, [as] it’s an important part of my life.”
The final performers were Harmeen Kahlon, Rishika Daswani and Chhavi Chawla, who closed off the night’s performances with an up-beat, fast paced traditional dance. It was now time for students to eat, and SAAT did not disappoint. The feast consisted of both butter chicken and butter tofu, rice, veggie korma, chutney and naan bread. After bellies were full, the music came back on and the dancing began; SAAT members and students who were down to boogie made their way to the open space cleared for a dance floor. While the dance floor became full with hopping students and displays of various cultural South Asian dances, President Alester Fernandes was able to sit down and tell us a bit about the importance of having a Diwali celebration on campus:
“It is really important, because there are a lot of people who immigrate from South East Asia that celebrate this festival, and it’s really important to share the culture with them.” Alester explained some of the administrative tasks that go into planning Diwali, such as obtaining risk assessments, but that “at the end of the day it’s a lot of fun, you see people being happy, sharing a smile, sharing joy.”
Wanting to get the perspective from a student who was neither a part of SAAT nor the exec team, I was able to have a conversation with another first year student named Sunaina Aiyer, an environmental studies major here at Trent as well as a member of the South Asian community. Asked about her experience as a first year at the Diwali celebration, Sunaina mused, “I don’t think being a first year played a huge part in my experience tonight. I was able to come with friends I had from before coming to Trent, but what I liked was that I felt comfortable tonight, everyone was very friendly and it gave me a great impression of the university as a whole.”
Diwali means different things to different people. For this writer, as a newcomer to the celebration, it was an opportunity to learn about a community that is integral in making Trent what it is. For Francine Vaz the significance is that “these are some of the few days in the year that make me really miss home.” For Aakriti Pandey, “Diwali is about joy and togetherness, taking one day out of our lives to be happy with the people that we love.” For Alester Fernandes, “it’s all about traditions, having fun and meeting up with friends and family.” Sunaina Aiyer, aptly explained Diwali as her “Christmas,” explaining, “I don’t celebrate Christmas, so being deprived of Diwali for me is like being deprived of Christmas.” Aiyer wants students who are not a part of the South Asian community to come, take part, and “feel like one of us during celebrations like this; don’t let any of culture shock get in the way, enjoy it and embrace it.” That last statement perfectly describes the unity that was shown at SAAT’s Diwali celebration this year.
Trent students came out, enjoyed and embraced Diwali as a community. Every year SAAT puts on a Diwali celebration and every year Trent students leave with an experience of a lifetime. This year was no exception.