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Alivia Sil, IT professional, soon-to-be MBA student

October 27, 2008

Location: Hillsboro, Oregon
Hometown: near Kolkata

Bengalis observe Kali Puja -- a major festival that coincides with Diwali (on new moon night in the Hindu calendar's eighth month), says Alivia Sil, who grew up in Serampore, a suburb of Kolkata. Her maternal grandfather hosted a big celebration -- a tradition that preceded the birth of Alivia's mother -- with about 70 family members gathering and pulling an all-nighter. "At 4 in the morning, we would have the prasad and then go to bed," she says.

That continued till her father took up a job with Hindustan Motors (that makes the 'Ambassador') and the family moved to Hindmotor, another suburb of Kolkata. The staff quarters had people from different parts of India who followed varied customs and traditions. There was a large population of people from northern India. "This place helped me understand the actual rituals of Diwali," Sil says. People would light diyas, wear new clothes, sweets would be shared. "Just like we have state-sponsored July 4 fireworks in America, the company organized a fireworks display that evening," she says.

Sil is fond of cooking, and a Diwali spread for her means dishing out delicacies such as biryani, lamb curry, kheer and rasmalai. "When I lived in upstate New York (from the year 2005), there were no Indian stores, so I learnt to prepare sweets, even paneer (cottage cheese), myself," she says.

Her husband, Dwaipayan, was studying at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, then. In January 2008, he joined Intel, and the couple moved to Oregon. Sil, who has worked in information technology in India, is planning to join the MBA program soon. She has been volunteering for Asha for Education -- a movement that started on US college campuses and seeks to bring change in India through education.

In the US, Sil has been celebrating Diwali by lighting candles and decorating the house. But one has to go easy on that because of the smoke alarms in homes. "I do miss the crackers that we used to burst," she says. She misses the grand Kali puja pandals of north Kolkata, strolling through the New Market area, and the family reunions in her grandparents' home. The good news is she is visiting India this December.

Text: Monika Joshi

Image: An woman holds an earthenware lamp during Diwali. Inset: Alivia Sil
Photograph: Strdel/AFP/Getty Images

Also read: Diwali Special

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