Illuminating Homes and Hearts: A Deepavali Letter

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10 Nov 2023

4 Min Read

Anonymous (Guest Contributor), Nellie Chan (Editor)


Explore this heartfelt letter capturing the essence and significance of Deepavali, a call for unity, inclusivity, and the embrace of diversity.

Dear fellow Malaysians,


As the Deepavali season approached, I found myself grappling with an overwhelming sense of emptiness. Writing about this Festival of Lights proved difficult, as I struggled to focus on the positives amid the far-from-positive events that unfolded this year, from incidents of police brutality to the persistent racial tensions plaguing our nation.


The anticipation of Deepavali, a day for munching on murukkus, reconnecting with cousins, and even enduring the customary oil bath (not the most pleasant experience), used to fill me with excitement. The times when we gathered under the night sky, mesmerised by the fireworks that illuminated it, were moments of contented joy. Yet, each spectacular shower of sparks seems to unsettle me lately. It's as if, for that one day, my community collectively set aside our troubles and allowed ourselves a temporary escape from reality. Still, I can't ignore the nagging feeling that something is amiss amid the celebrations.

Chatting with Patti

Patti ('grandma') once told me, long ago, that Deepavali marks the victory of Lord Krishna over the oppressive demon Narakasura. The demon had terrorised the land, so in response to the pleas of the other gods and goddesses, Lord Krishna, with his consort Satyabhama, engaged in an epic battle with Narakasura. Despite the demon's formidable powers, Lord Krishna's divine strength and determination led to his triumphant defeat. While there are different versions of this story, Patti always said, "Chella kutty ('sweetheart'), no matter the differences, all these stories end the same way – with our gods overcoming their struggles and challenges." 


You see, Deepavali isn't just about lighting lamps or having a good time; it delivers a meaningful message: the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. Retelling these tales reminds us that if our gods and goddesses can triumph, so can we! We only need to remember the strength within us, the strength in unity. Just imagine us standing shoulder-to-shoulder, donning the impenetrable armour of unity. We'd be a force to be reckoned with!

Musing on What’s Missing

But unity seems so far away at times when I witness my culture and tradition commercialised without any real understanding, when assignments and exams are scheduled right after the festivities without consideration, or when people mock our sacred rituals without respect. Worse yet is when we're wrongfully labelled as 'unclean' or 'dishonest'. And on the odd chance when we voice our grievances, people see us as if we're overreacting. However, that's not how I see it. Rather, I see us reacting to the ignorance that we find ourselves in too often, even though it's been years since our nation gained independence. I suppose that's why the whole 'sticking together' shtick has never seemed to pan out as we'd hoped.


Though the thing that really gets under my skin when these things happen is when people just stand idly by, watching ignorance play out, but never offering to help — the bystander effect. Why is it that we freeze up upon seeing something unfair or unjust, even when we know that stepping in is the right thing to do? Is it the fear of going it alone, or is it the worry over the consequences? Or maybe, it's thinking someone else will swoop in and save the day, so, 'not my problem'. The discrimination my community faces to this day serves as a glaring reflection that our lack of action hampers progress as a nation.

Small Steps for Big Changes

Let this letter be our call to action, urging each of us to take that step. Whether within the walls of our schools, amid the hustle and bustle of our workplaces, or within our close-knit communities, we all have the strength to embark on the simple yet profoundly impactful journey of empathy. This involves learning about each other's beliefs, cultures, and traditions, fostering relationships grounded in understanding and respect. If that seems overwhelming, start with smaller steps, such as seeking knowledge when encountering an unfamiliar culture or showing solidarity in the face of discrimination.


As our homes are illuminated this Deepavali, let's also remember to illuminate our hearts. Discrimination has cast a shadow over our nation for far too long, but the ability to dispel it lies in our collective actions. Let us stand united, for in unity, we find inclusivity, and in inclusivity, we embrace diversity. Together, we can ensure that not only Deepavali but every day that follows is bright.


With all my heart,

A fellow Malaysian

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