Diwali Comes to Gracie MansionGracie Mansion, the official home of the Mayor of New York, had probably never seen so many Indians or cooked up such a big batch of samosas!
Hundreds of Indians from all walks of life – diplomats, community bigwigs, journalists, artists, chefs and business people had all gathered in a huge tented space on the lush lawns of Gracie Mansion, overlooking the East River. This was the biggest Diwali bash in memory and included so many faces from the Indian-American community of New York.Itwas inspiring to see several Indian-Americans on the Mayor’s team including Nisha Agarwal, Immigration Rights Commissioner, Meera Joshi, Taxi and Limousine and the latest addition – Sree Sreenivasan who is now New York City’s Chief Digital Officer. The Indian community seemed in its element, delighted to have Diwali recognized by Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray who looked elegant in a yellow and white Punjabi outfit.
Mayor de Blasio remarked to the gathered desis: “Now, Diwali is such a positive holiday, and what I love – I love the celebration of the triumph of good over evil. And I love the celebration of the merging of something – all of humanity looks at the night time and nighttime is part of our lives, but there’s a certain trepidation that goes with the nighttime, and Diwali represents the burst of light illuminating all, celebrating all, protecting all. It’s such a beautiful holiday. Now we want all New Yorkers and particularly the young people of New York City to understand Diwali better, so now in our Department of Education we have offered to all teachers this guide so they can all teach Diwali.”
He added, amidst laughter, “I’m going to tell them to come up with a more interesting title because the title is “Learning About Diwali.” I know they can come up with something more creative! But let me tell you, we are so honored to know that our school system will be teaching the meaning of this holiday and helping people from all walks of life to understand each other and to feel more unified.”
The exuberant crowd started chanting for a Diwali School Holiday – who knows that may come to pass too!
The Magnificent MegacityMayor de Blasio also had strong words about the many communities that make up the rich fabric of New York. ” We believe when any community – when any community’s attacked or when any individual is attacked because of who they are, because of their faith, because of where they come from – an attack on one is an attack on all of us. And that is something we believe deeply, and you will see whenever any community is affronted the NYPD will be present to protect that community and whenever there’s a hate crime we are very adamant.”
The evening honored Indian-American designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia who has been an outspoken voice against racism and bigotry. The mayor proclaimed Wednesday, October 19th 2016, in the City of New York as Waris Ahluwalia Day: “So, Waris does it all. He is a fashion designer. He is a writer. He is an actor – of course he’s a model, too. And he has an unmistakably New York style, and, as a Sikh, he proudly wears his dastar wherever he goes. And so he sends a powerful message to our city, to our country – countering ignorance, celebrating inclusion, and advocating for religious understanding and tolerance in everything that he does. And we want to celebrate him.”
“I am a New Yorker!”
Waris is probably the only Indian-American to have an entire day named after and dedicated to him! He received a proclamation from the Mayor to huge applause from the audience.
“On 9/11 our great city was attacked and we all suffered,” recalled Ahluwalia. “Something peculiar happened to me – people glared at me with anger and hate as I walked down my own streets in my own hometown. Six months after that terrible day I was assaulted and nearly lost vision in my right eye.” Through it all, he has faced the detractors and spoken up for unity and understanding.
Diwali has been celebrated for centuries but he pointed out that in today’s chaotic world, this festival of the victory of goodness over evil, of light over darkness seemed more relevant than ever, and the dark forces could be fought back with understanding and education.
“Fear is the oldest emotion known to mankind and it seems everywhere we look today someone is peddling fear – and not just fear but fear of the Other,” he said. “We have to remember – there is no Other, there is just us. So join me in stepping out of the shadows of fear, and into the light of love – not just on Diwali but always.”
Indeed, a great start to the Diwali season!
Photo Gallery: A Gracie Mansion Diwali
What’s next on your wishlist for Diwali? Do share!