Walking into Grant Hall, I entered a completely different atmosphere than the bitter snowstorm raging outside.
The already colorful Grant Hall was warm, dressed up with balloons, curtains, round tables and floral centerpieces. Guests mingled around tables wearing sarees, lehengas and semi-formal wear in every color I could imagine.
The Queen’s Indian Student’s Association (QISA), Queens South Asian Association, Queen’s Tamil Students Association and the Queen’s Pakistani Students Association all came together on Nov. 20 to hold the 2016 Diwali Formal. The night promised dance performances, Bollywood music and delicious food.
Luckily, I was able to snag a ticket before they sold out.
The annual Festival of Diwali took place over a span of five days in late October, almost a month before the formal. The purpose of holding a Diwali formal was that of any other: to dress up, eat good food and spend time with friends.
Diwali is a time “to remind ourselves that darkness will always be overcome by light, that evil will always be overcome by good,” Anisha Jain, vice-president of QISA and one of the organizers of the event explained. While Diwali is celebrated by many South Asians, every family celebrates differently, she said.
“Diwali, the festival of lights, is a very important time in the year for not only me and my family, but for many Jains, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists,” Jain said.
“It is a five-day long festival, however each family has their own traditions. The tradition my parents have kept for many years now is hosting a Diwali pooja (prayer) and party at our house. On the third day of the festival all of our family and friends come over dressed in their best Indian attire and we spend the whole night mingling, eating Indian sweets and setting off fireworks.”
While Grant Hall couldn’t accommodate fireworks, the hall lit up without them through string lights, bright clothes and glittering jewelry.
The sold out event had no shortage of entertainment. Grant Hall’s stage was utilized for a series of dances performed by dance teams from the organizing clubs. Dancers incorporated Disney tracks and Bollywood music into their performances, winning laughs and applause as they displayed impressively-synchronized moves.
As soon as one group of performers left the stage, another replaced them while they changed into new costumes and resumed in almost non-stop arrangements.
The Facebook page called for “South Asian dress” or semi-formal wear, something I was apprehensive about before going to the formal. My friend who also went to the formal offered to let me borrow a shalwar khameez to wear.
I felt nervous about accepting, unsure of whether it was inappropriate for me, a white person, to show up at a South Asian cultural event in an outfit belonging to a different culture. My friend assured me that I wasn’t in danger of being insensitive: she had invited me to wear her clothes, taught me the correct way of wearing them, and we were about to go to an event where wearing them was appropriate.
Indeed, sarees, dresses, lehengas and suits were worn by everyone attending the formal, South Asian or otherwise. No one batted an eye at my outfit, as I gobbled down the sweet gulab jamun, savory samosas, mint chutney, and plenty of other delicious food along with everyone else.
The light-hearted formal culminated in an energetic open dance floor, and brought out a seemingly permanent smile from all of its attendees, even in spite of the winter’s first bleak snowstorm.
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