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How to celebrate Deepavali if you are clueless

How to celebrate Deepavali if you are clueless

Get cultured

Text: Aravin Sandran


Deepavali is around the corner once again, and every year the nation grapples with the same old questions. If you're still clueless about it, we've got all you non-Indian folks covered. Deepavali — some refer to it as Diwali — is arguably one of the biggest, boldest and brightest of all Hindu festivals. It is the festival of lights: deepa means "light" and "vali" means row. It occurs around the same time every year between October and November in accordance with the Hindu lunar calendar. While each faith has its own origin story, the five-day fiesta is basically about the triumph of good over evil, light over dark. Being the only national public holiday afforded to Hindus in Singapore, it's the only day out of the entire year that Indians can truly celebrate who they are: their culture, traditions and complex identities out in the open.

I wish I could say that all of this happens without judgement and discrimination, but I can't. We're not there yet. Aunties still scare their kids with threats that the apu neh neh will kidnap them if they don't behave themselves and the mainstream media ahem Channel NewsAsia — still conducts distasteful 'social experiments' that continue to prove just how divided, ignorant and culturally unaware we are as a society. It's about time we get enlightened and educated, so here are a bunch of tips from Buro's very own — Indian — culture editor.

Invite yourself over to that one Indian friend's place and have HTHT conversations.

Trawl through your contacts. Everyone has that one token Indian friend in their back pocket, which they conveniently whip out at birthday parties and weddings, just to meet their bougie diversity quota. Well, HDB does it so who could blame them? Now's the time to get to know that person. Reach out earnestly and shamelessly invite yourself over to their place this Deepavali. They would be more than happy to host you for a couple of hours and possibly school you on the many intricacies of being Indian in this country. Don't worry, you won't leave on an empty stomach — Indians can be exceptional, pushy feeders. 

If you don't have a single Indian friend, something's wrong. Round up your racist friends and watch an Indian movie.

What better way to understand a culture than through its films? Remember when Indian movies were supposedly all about running around in paddy fields and playing hide-and-seek around coconut trees? Well, those days are over. Life in Indian villages has modernised with Wi-fi and mobile phones and the booming Indian film industry has kept pace. For starters, I would recommend this year's epic box office hit Padmaavat. The grandiosity of Baz Luhrmann's cinematography meets the medieval narrative of Game of Thrones in this visually stunning historic tale. There's been some controversy around its sensational finale, but there will be no spoilers here. 

Can't be asked to sit through a three-hour film? No worries — revel in the virtuosity of AR Rahman's music while lying comatose in bed.

Indian cinema wouldn't be the same without AR Rahman. The Indian music director has sold over a hundred million copies of his work that consists of music from more than 100 film soundtracks in half a dozen languages. Rahman was thrust into the international spotlight in 2008 when he was awarded two Oscars for Best Song and Best Score for Slumdog Millionaire. The multi-hyphenate has worked with international artistes as well including Mick Jagger, M.I.A and Michael Jackson. Hans Zimmer has nothing on this man.

You'll probably be hungry on Deepavali, so have one of your meals at Samy's Curry.

Starting out as a humble roadside stall on Tank Road, Samy's Curry has now become one of the most beloved Indian restaurants in Singapore. Nestled in the tropical foliage of Dempsey, eating at Samy's Curry is like stepping back into the colonial era. Rackety fans creek above a wide-concept canteen with uniformed servers scurrying around with platters full of spicy masala. This is Indian food like my Indian mother wishes she could cook. No diluted curries or limp butter chicken on the menu here. To complete the experience, eat with your hands on a fresh banana leaf. Can't be bothered to make the trek to Dempsey? Get one of chef Devagi Sanmugam's cookbooks and make your own curry in a hurry.

Samy's Curry, 25 Dempsey Road Singapore

Go to an Ayurvedic spa and put yourself back together.

Use the day off you get on Deepavali to take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror. Do your eyebrows look like caterpillars have nested on your face? Does your body feel like it has been pummelled by a baseball bat after a long week? Book a Grab taxi and get yourself to an Indian Ayurvedic spa. Indulge in therapies such as Shirodhara, where medicated oil or buttermilk is poured continuously over a patient's head and then get that wispy moustache on your upper lip threaded using only a piece of string. No matter what treatments you pick, you'll leave feeling like a born-again woman or man.

Om Vedic Heritage Centre, 43 Tessensohn Road

Wanting more? Get tickets to Kalaa Utvasam — Indian Festival of the Arts.

Esplanade's 10-day festival brings together a spectrum of classical and contemporary performances by artists from the Indian diaspora and Singapore. Directed by Kumar, stand-up comedian Sharul Channa returns with another hilarious one-woman show, Disco Sheela and other Indian Superwomen. Elsewhere, Kerela-based band, Avial brings their genre-defying tunes to Singapore for the first time, proving yet again that there's more to Indian music than our National Day favourite Munnaeru Vaalibaa — insert eye-roll emoji.

Kalaa Utsavam   Indian Festival of Arts, 16 November to 25 November, Esplanade  Theatres on the Bay

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