Bur Dubai
Diwali is one of the festivals when several areas of the city including Bur Dubai are decorated with twinkling lights Image Credit: GN Archives

Aggarwal Family

Having lived in the UAE for over two decades, the Aggarwal family of four have celebrated about 15 Diwalis in Dubai.

Atul Aggarwal is originally from Delhi and his wife Gunjan Aggarwal is from Meerut, a city in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh.

Agarwal family
Agarwal family Image Credit: Supplied

Atul and Gunjan’s 17-year-old daughter, Nandini Agarwal knows all about the festival - that it is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. ‘Diwali is an occasion to celebrate our culture and pass its knowledge to the next generation’, she says. The festival is also about community and a greater good. ‘What’s more, the light of diyas (oil lamps) represents hope.’ Nandini says.

Her brother Aryan too is well aware about the cultural significance of the festival.

For them, the festival that brings families and communities together is also about faith, prayer and unity. So, all the regular ceremonies associated with the festival are observed in the household.

Nandini recollects her earliest impression of Diwali, that of her dad, Atul, atop a chair holding an entangled set of fairy lights and her mom standing next to him with a roll of tape in her hand trying to set up the lights in their home.

Growing up, she and Aryan would help their parents get their home clean, which is a customary ritual in most homes to welcome the festival.

Over the years, Nandini was entrusted with the coveted job, as she says, of making Rangoli (traditional Indian art form using colored sand or powder to decorate the courtyard).

‘Although, we wish people, ‘happy Diwali’, it might not be a happy one for some,' she says. Aryan and Nandini’s parents, Gunjan and Atul, agree. ‘It is on festivals like Diwali where we get to teach our kids our culture and the importance of tolerance. We want to encourage our children and make them understand that all festivals in essence tells us to give back,’ says the senior IT professional.

Gunjan, who works for a local bank, echoes his sentiment saying, ‘Giving back to someone less fortunate is inherent in our faith, and it is our responsibility to teach our kids this moral lesson.’

Gunjan’s way of paying it forward to her community is by distributing mithai (Indian sweets) and clothes to domestic workers and maintenance staff in their neighborhood. She also makes it a point to include some money along with the sweets so the recipient’s Diwali is sweeter in many ways.

Her 13-year-old son Aryan, too does his bit for the community during the festive times of Diwali. He says, ‘What we do in my school is we make cards, arts and crafts items and diyas which we distribute amongst the bus drivers and school staff.’ It may be a small token of appreciation but the recipients of the cards and the diyas are truly happy. 'It is an occasion for us to make them feel cared and loved,' says Aryan.

Atul too does his bit in giving back to the community. Every year when he returns to India on summer holidays, he makes it a point to give away a certain amount of money. ‘Donating to the less fortunate is something I do regularly. We are a family that has always tried their best to give back to the community, the festival of light only motivates us further to bring light to the lives of others.’

Khushalani Family

The three generations of the Khushalani family are understandably excited for Diwali with the conversation starting with its third generation taking the lead. Khushi Manglani, a 13-year-old student at the Dubai International Academy is excited to share her thoughts on what Diwali means to her. ‘Apart from the giving and the togetherness, it is the festival of lights so, of course, it brings a lot of joy’, she states matter of factly.

According to her, lighting up someone’s life doesn’t mean doing a lot for them; it is about doing the smallest things possible to bring a smile to a person’s face.

Khushalani family
Khushalani family Image Credit: Supplied

‘That may be a big thing for them because you don’t know what someone is going through’, says Khushi. Truly, inner joy and happiness comes when we help others and the art of giving develops a deep-rooted sense of self-worth in children.

Calling Dubai their first home, the Khushalanis have lived in Dubai for almost 30 years. Khushi lives with her mom, grandmom and uncle.

The daughter of a senior manager in a bank, Khushi’s way of spreading light during diwali is by donating her preloved wardrobe to charity every year.

On Diwali, we always get new clothes. So, mom insists on clearing out my old wardrobe every year during this time and I donate that to charity. That is an example of how I want to be able to give it back this Diwali and light up someone’s life.’

Khushalani family
Khushalani family Image Credit: Supplied

Reiterating her daughter’s thoughts, mom Meenakshi Khushalani also believes that Diwali is about the coming together of family. Besides indulging in her own aspirations during the festival, the mom of one has her own special way of lighting someone’s life.

She says, ‘In a place like Dubai, there are a lot of professionals who are all by themselves, and who miss their families. They might not have the opportunity to enjoy home cooked food, like we do.’

So, to make them feel loved and cared for, she makes it a point to invite small groups of people who are living away from their families for a meal on Diwali.

What could be better than making someone feel a part of your home and your celebrations, so that they don’t miss their home during this festive season, she says.

‘These are the little things that make a festival a festival. This is what I generally call giving, or bringing a smile on their face. When they come over, it is not just about spreading joy, it is more like a feeling of, ‘oh I am here for you’’, says the second generation Khushalani.

Lajwanti’s way of lighting up her loved ones’ life is by cooking for people. She gets immense joy from cooking and feeding people.

‘It gives me great satisfaction to prepare food for people, not just my family, but for anyone. If I can satiate someone’s heart through food, that is my way of lighting someone’s life.’

Amit Khushalani, Meenakshi’s brother, has celebrated Holi, Diwali and many Indian festivals in his home in Russia. ‘Diwali is a good time to exchange darkness for light, to give up your old habits for new, to make way for happiness’, advises the Moscow-based businessman.

His take on lighting up someone’s life this Diwali is for the voiceless, the animals who are always in need of our love and affection.

‘Contributing to an animal shelter, visiting the strays there, walking them, spending time with them, feeding them is my way of giving back. You are bringing light into their life by just being there for them.’

Khushi’s grandma, Lajwanti Ramesh Kumar Khushalani, nods her head in agreement. ‘Only if we are happy, can we make others happy,’ she says.

Jetwani Family

Mother-daughter duo Jia and Tisha Jetwani, first- and second-generation Dubai expatriates, also make it a point to add a dash of love to other’s lives on Diwali.

Born in Abu Dhabi and brought up in Dubai, Jia Jetwani feels blessed to call Dubai her home for the last 38 years. A homemaker. she is originally from Pune India.

Jia distinctly remembers how Diwali was spent in the 1980’s in her home in Bur Dubai. ‘It wasn’t as flashy and widespread back then, but it had its own old charm.’ Diwali in the mid-eighties in Dubai was about simple, singular strings of fairy lights gracing smaller balconies, mainly in the Meena Bazaar area, which is collectively known as the Fahidi District neighborhood today. The present-day scenario, with regard to the display of lights, is nothing short of a set out of a Bollywood movie, she says.

Jethwani family Jia and Tisha
Jethwani family Jia and Tisha Image Credit: Supplied

‘Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, which is why we light up during the festival with diyas in our home.’ Prayers, indulging in feasts and family visits are the norm every Diwali for the Jetwanis.

Being an ardent follower of her faith, Jia has always been taught to help those in need and give back to her community. ‘I believe that we can light up someone’s life at any given time, just by listening and being there for someone who needs a ear. Why wait for Diwali?’ A yearly routine that she follows is to donate clothing and gifts to those less fortuitous than her.

Jia’s daughter Tisha, a soft-spoken 14-year-old is quite perceptive about mental health. When questioned about how she plans to light up someone’s life this Diwali, she shares a touching story. ‘I plan to light up my friend’s life this Diwali as she is feeling very low. Her dad lost his job recently so she moved schools. She is obviously not happy about it. I still keep in touch with her after she left our school. Many of her close friends left her but l will always be with her throughout so that she doesn’t feel alone here.’

This Diwali, Tisha is planning to invite her friend over to celebrate the festival of lights together. Being with friends in their time of need is just one of the ways one can add some light in another person’s life, she says. ‘As a youngster, there is only so much I can do and I think being with her and cheering her up as best as I can will surely bring a smile to her face. That way Diwali would be a festival where we all are able to spread some good cheer, she says.

‘Since the world today is so war-torn, festivals like Diwali remind us about good over evil, a good reminder and teacher about our values and morals.’ she says.