I expected to find dinner and dancing at Diwali but the disco was a surprise. I heard the thumping music from a long way off and then I saw a mass of bobbing blackhaired heads, colourful turbans and baseball caps. They were almost entirely male dancing uninhibitedly in groups in the middle of the street, completely unaware of the crowds watching them. They danced on a strip of artificial grass that had been laid between a portable cabin selling tickets for the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup and a gigantic cricket ball.
Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year, in Auckland we celebrate in Spring. It’s warm enough to make coats and jackets unnecessary and the crowd is spotted with fluorescent saris and salwar kameez. Diwali signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair.
Like all good festivals, food has a central place. In Auckland we’re becoming more knowledgeable about Indian cuisine – events like the Sandringham Spice tour (https://thelocaltouristnz.com/2014/06/02/ok-auckland-are-you-ready-to-eat-your-way-round-india/) have opened our eyes and we know that it’s not all about curry and samosas (although there is nothing wrong with either of those at all).
Small portions sold for a reasonable price are ideal for grazing and being adventurous. I try bhel puri, a snack made from puffed rice and thin crispy fried noodles with potatoes, onion, tomato and coriander and tamarind. It’s crispy and crunchy and tastes sweet and salty, tart and spicy all at once. Then I’m tempted by a tray of freshly made onion pakora and aloo bondi, balls of spicy mashed potato coated in chickpea flour and fried. All I’ve got room for after that is a golden mango lassi.
On the stage outside the Aotea Centre a constant stream of dancers entertain the crowds. The audience cheers when a popular tune plays. Bollywood music with its toe-tapping rhythm gets arms waving but heads are nodding too when classical Indian music combining the sitar, the rhythms of the tabla drum and the tones of the harmonium takes over.
Belly dancers shake and jingle, tiny children look petrified while their teacher shouts encouragement from side stage, and gorgeous women with jet black hair and smooth coffee coloured skin move gracefully like brilliantly coloured birds. The crowd loves them all.
Inside the Aotea Center, away from the music, the Indian wedding expo is attracting more photographers than would-be couples. Not surprising because everywhere there are girls wearing the richest and sparkliest saris I’ve ever seen. They pose happily moving between elephants and Hindi gods, red velvet thrones and bowls filled with lotus flowers and candles. An Indian wedding is hard to beat for ceremony, colour and celebration but I overhear one young girl say “everyone enjoys it except the mother of the bride”. I hope she doesn’t mean it.
Categories: New Zealand