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|
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".
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.
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.