Diwali Night at the Smith School

November 6th, 2011 by under General, Smith School. No Comments.

Sometimes I have to marvel at the sheer diversity among the students here at the Smith School. Almost half of my cohort is comprised of international students, and the rest of us hail from just about every corner of the country you can imagine. Part of what boggles my mind is how absolutely foreign Maryland must seem to some of us. I know that in the three months since I moved here, I’ve been repeatedly perplexed and frustrated by the weather, the traffic, the food, and the local bureaucracy… and I only came from California! Imagine what some of my friends here from India or Korea must think!

With that in mind, I understand the value of having a little taste of home. Last week, the International MBA Association hosted a party to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. This year, Diwali technically fell on the weekend before Halloween, but what with the chaos of the week before as we all scurried hither and yon to get ready for the new classes, I suppose putting off the festival made sense.

So what is Diwali? Nominally, it’s a “festival of lights,” (the name is a contraction of a Sanskrit term that translates to “row of lamps”) which tempts an analogy to Hanukkah. The context of the celebration is one of spiritual rebirth, which brings Easter to mind. And, well, if you’d been among the throng of revelry at Van Munching Hall last Thursday night, you would have been witness to a dance party and buffet that put any church service I’ve ever attended to shame.

There were performances from both the first- and second-year MBA classes, including a fashion show, some karaoke, and a Bollywood-style dance number. The food was an exquisite array of traditional Indian fare, and all of the good beer got drunk when I wasn’t looking. Dean Anand made an appearance, circulating among the crowd, as did everyone’s favorite Professor of Decision Sciences, Dr. Lele.

At the end of the evening, as we all began to drift off on our separate ways, I found myself thinking about this window into another culture that I’d had the chance to look through. It had certainly been a fun evening, but surely there was more to Diwali than dancing and drinking. I thought back to the concepts of spiritual rebirth, and the connotations of the term “festival of lights,” and I spent the next few days mulling it over.

In the end, from what I’ve seen, Diwali is about nourishing the candle within – and hopefully you’ll excuse the flowery metaphor. What I mean is that in a high-pressure environment like, well, real life, sometimes you burn the candle at both ends. Diwali – and other analogous festivals in every culture, is a time for contemplating that inner fire and making sure it can still continue to burn, and it’s also a time for seeking out the experiences that make that candle burn ever brighter. So we dance, we make merry, we smile, and we bring light to our own life and to the lives of those around us.

As the days grow ever darker and shorter and the gloom of winter begins to creep ever nearer, I find myself exceedingly glad to have been a part of Diwali. Even if I’m still pondering the details of it – blame my background in theology and the humanities – I always love the chance to see and experience new cultures.

Visit the International MBA Association’s website here, and click here for news on upcoming events! Their email address is IMBAA@rhsmith.umd.edu.


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