Saturday, October 29, 2016

Local Saturday - An Exotic Tale

This weekend marks the start of Diwali, the most important (or so I understand) Indian holiday of the year.  The holiday gets its name from clay lamps that Indians light outside their homes, and celebrates the victory of good over evil.  This five day festival, I read, is celebrated with bonfires, fireworks, strings of lights, and gold.  Friends and family visit, food is shared, and...well, it sounds like a lot of fun.

I first heard of Diwali last year, after I somehow (I don't even remember how) got introduced to a community of online bloggers who live, for the most part, in India.  I, on the other hand, live in upstate New York and have never been off the North American continent.

Thinking of Diwali makes me think of a friend now gone, and a town in New Jersey.

Last September (2015), my best friend from childhood passed away after a long struggle with cancer.  She was only six months older than I am.  In the religion both of us grew in, there is a ceremony called an "unveiling" within the first year of someone's passing.  It is, basically, a dedication of the headstone and a memorial service for the deceased.  Normally, only close family and friends are invited. 

I was honored to receive an invitation from my late friend's husband to attend my friend's unveiling.  Although they lived in Brooklyn, it turns out she was interred near Woodbridge, New Jersey.

While researching a motel, I saw that Woodbridge was near a community called Edison.  It sounded familiar.

I had heard about Edison from some of those Indian bloggers. The Edison-Iselin area, I recalled, has the largest community of Indians in the United States.  Even better, I remembered that one of my spouse's cousins lived in Edison.

We contacted him and his wife, and they told us we were more than welcome to stay with them overnight.  Then, I asked the Indian bloggers if they had ever heard of Edison. Some had, and one, in fact, one had even just returned from a visit to Edison.  She recommended some restaurants.

Small world.  And it was about to get smaller.
Delaware Water Gap, near Pennsylvania-New Jersey border
The drive from the Binghamton, New York area to Edison was uneventful.  The weather was beautiful.

As we got off the highway and approached the  Iselin-Menlo park area, it was obvious we were entering a different cultural area.

My spouse's cousins lived not far off a road called Oak Tree Road.  We drove down that street, in amazement, looking at storefronts with Hindi signs, seeing jewelry store after jewelry store, stores featuring Indian women's wear, restaurants, and more.

"You haven't seen anything yet", said the cousins, after dinner.  "Let us take you down Oak Tree Road after dark.  In fact, do you want to go in some of the stores? I'll take you."  But we knew this cousin had to be somewhere at 3am the next morning, so we declined.  Still, we took the nighttime drive.

This is some of what we saw.  To some of my readers, these sights will be every day.  To me - dare I use the word "exotic"?  Exotic: "From far away, unusual, exciting".

(Sorry, from the car, the pictures are not of high quality.

This egg restaurant is so intriguing.  The sign says "‘Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande". (I think it means "eat an egg every day, Sunday or Monday." I'm sure I will be corrected quickly if that is the wrong translation.

The streets were full of people. Shopping center parking lots were full of cars and talking people.

 "This is a prime time for the people here to get out and visit with friends and family", the cousin explained.  As it happens, his job (he's retired now) involved a lot of contact with people in India, and he had even visited Mumbai several times.  I told him, in turn, that my father had been stationed near Delhi for a while during World War II. He had loved it there, and had always wanted to go back.  He never made it.

It's sad to say, if my friend had not chosen her plot where she had, I may never have visited this community.  It's almost, in a way, like her last gift to me.

If I had been able to come back today, I could imagine the stores filled with Diwali sweets of every description.  The lights of that September night would burn even brighter tonight.  Perhaps we wouldn't even get any sleep from all the noise.

Perhaps, one day, I'll be able to return, and experience it for myself.


  1. What a nice way to honor your friend's memory, and what an interesting trip! An egg restaurant! That is something new for me. Interesting concept.

  2. I've traveled overseas quite a bit and just love being exposed to other cultures. I hope you get back to Edison one day and visit some of the stores and restaurants.

  3. Interestingly, a community here on Long Island has just recognized Diwali as a school holiday, and other school districts may soon follow.

  4. What a wonderful story, you have woven two types of celebration together. Celebration is all about remembering. It is best to remember good times.
    I am learning more about this wonderful Diwali holiday celebration from this blog. On a recent evening flight into London I saw fireworks were exploding all over the city. When I asked what they were celebrating, Diwali was the answer.
    I am all in favour of celebrating the victory of good over evil.

  5. A heart touching incident! The emotions take over us sometimes and you explained it well.

  6. I agree with Alice as well as your last thoughts... it is about honoring a memory and perhaps a gift from your friend to you. Best to look at things that way.

  7. Ah, sounds like Little India. There's an area not too far from where I sit now where a bunch of the local Indian population have shops and such. There's also a Little Saigon as well as a Chinatown, but those are a bit farther out.


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