Deepavali is dying and we must save it

Nov 11 — ON the eve of Deepavali this year, I woke up and dressed for the day; on a whim, I decided to inject some festive flair into my wardrobe by swapping my staple standard dress for a loud elephant print kurta, completing the look with my favourite oversized red pottu and eyeliner.

Now, heading into the office on a dreary Monday morning felt special. The Deepavali spirit, if you will.

As it turns out, I would go on to learn an important lesson from my taxi driver that very morning.

Yes, it was good I had made the effort to dress up, but I had failed to take the day off and that decision was the fundamental behaviour that will undermine our multi-culturalism.

In Little India -- whether in Singapore or as pictured here in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur -- Deepavali preparations start weeks before the actual day. — Picture by Hari Anggara.
In Little India -- whether in Singapore or as pictured here in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur -- Deepavali preparations start weeks before the actual day. — Picture by Hari Anggara.

Of course, he didn’t say it in exactly those words — but as soon I settled into the back seat, the uncle caught my eye in his rear-view mirror and asked accusingly: “Girl, you never take the day off ah? It’s Deepavali you know.”

So I explained that I had every intention of celebrating on the public holiday but that I just wanted to head into the office and finish my work before the day.

(Fortunately, I refrained from telling him that I would have to unfortunately cut the day’s festivities a little short because of a flight for work that very evening lest he kicked me out of his taxi onto the expressway!)

“Girl, you think like this then everybody thinks like this – soon there will be no more festival you know. It will just be public holiday.”

I laughed, nodded and allowed this taxi uncle conversation to go the way of most taxi uncle conversation with me agreeing politely till I reached my destination.

Except much later in the day when the afternoon had flown by and my mother was calling to ask when I was going to return — I discovered I genuinely agreed with the uncle.

He was completely right. We should make a bigger deal of our festivals – regardless of our religious convictions — because so many of these observations are more about culture and community.

For every Singaporean who prioritises work and pragmatism over celebration and revelry, we lose a little more of what makes our city-state tight-knit.

It is true in recent years I have noticed fewer and fewer of my fellow Singaporeans dressed to the nines for their festivals or even marking the occasion at all; be it Hari Raya where the sight of perfectly co-ordinated Malay families was numerous and delightful or Chinese New Year when my downstairs neighbours (a pair of unmarried sisters) would come up the one flight to give me and my brother a pair of oranges each.

With each passing year, everybody gets a little busier and the event gets little fanfare. Soon, as the taxi uncle explained, there will be no fanfare at all.

So next year I vow to try and take the week off and make it a big deal because the uncle is right; it should be a big deal.

It is Deepavali, after all.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.