“Laxmanji, Laxmi Puja ki Mahurat kitne baje hai?” Yes, 23 years of living in the Gulf and this question was repeated year after year to this gent.
Laxmanji was a devout Hindu who worked as a supervisor at the neighbourhood supermarket in Bahrain. But the good thing was he was well informed with matters pertaining to Hindu festivals. The fact that he went to the temple every Friday (his day off) kept him up-to-date with auspicious Hindu festival days. There were many who contacted him for religious information. The Diwali dates were always confirmed well in advance but Laxmi Puja timings were urgent.
Luckily most Gulf countries are fairly broadminded when it comes to festivals. Bahrain was exceptionally open and there were temples and gurudwaras there.
Dubai, too, had a fairly broad approach. The problem over Diwali usually occurs because the Hindu population is outnumbered by the Muslim and Christian population in the GCC states by and large.
Also Diwali is a working day unless it falls on the Gulf weekend of Friday and Saturday. Unlike, Muslim festivals where everybody descends on the streets, Diwali is fairly restrained and only celebrated indoors more often than not.
So how is Diwali celebrated in the Gulf? Those of religious bent, often visit the temples in the evening after work. Others choose to have a get-together of sorts at home or at clubs.The tradition of home visits is very strong. It also offers an opportunity to meet up with friends who are lost in the long-hour and money-making routine of the Gulf.
The clubs and the Indian Embassy also play their part. Since most of the Indian states are represented by clubs, each region had its unique celebration at these establishments. Usually traditional music and dance shows are held. There is plenty of food and drinks if the club had a licence. The Indian Club always tries to get a celebratory singer or actor to enliven the proceedings.
Even ordinary expatriates get into the act by booking a hotel hall for a Diwali programme with their relatives and friends. Needless to say, the Goans always have a blast, whatever the occasion. Those working in offices during the day are always well-dressed, with the sarees and sherwanis out of the closet. Fortunately Indian sweet shops abound and there is no problem procuring them.
The Indian Embassy and some clubs and individuals also make it a point to visit the hardworking labourers in their poorly-equipped camps to join in the celebrations.
Compared to other Muslim celebrations, Diwali is on a much smaller proportion, but it still establishes the diversity of India.
All communities, including the Arabs, join in the festivities, religion relegated to second place.
Laxmanji visits the temple a couple of days before and gets the mahurat times. Being anxious always, one checks with relatives and friends in India too on the timings, if the mobile lines are not too clogged. Then comes the dilemma – go with Laxmanji’s timings or the India one? You can’t play around with Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity.
Oh well, when in Bahrain, do things Bahrain time !