Northern Lights over Oslo – photo by flickRarity
When I was in kindergarten, I learned about the different ethnic groups (known in Singapore as “races”) in Singapore and the festivals they celebrated. Ours, the Chinese “race”, was coolest because we had our New Year for two days in a row, and we received cash money from relatives and friends of our parents.
Every other festival was known as a “New Year”. Hari Raya was “Malay New Year”, Deepavali was “Indian New Year”. We also celebrated with the ethnic groups known as the “race” of “others” during the proper “New Year”, or “Ang Moh New Year”, as my grandparents used to call the first day of January. Christmas and Easter were also “Ang Moh” festivals which we knew weren’t New Year’s Days. You just know these things when you’re such a smart kid.
We’ve been invited to a Deepavali luncheon this week, and I’ve only realised that it’s only been in the last decade or so that some of us have started calling it Diwali as well. We also watched a very funny episode of The Office titled “Diwali”.
Naomi asked me why there was a difference between the names, and whether they were two separate festivals. Being the smart kid that I am, I told her that they were one and the same, and that Diwali was Hindi for Deepavali, and Deepavali was Tamil for Diwali, and that we’ve only started calling it Diwali because of an increasing North Indian / Bollywood influence here, and that previously, all Singaporeans knew about India was that everyone spoke Tamil because if you are Indian you are Tamil.
As with most things I state with an air of authority, I found later that I was only half right.
Diwali and Deepavali are actually two different festivals. Diwali is celebrated in the north one day after Deepavali is celebrated in the south. Diwali celebrates the return from exile of Lord Ram to Ayodyha, while Deepavali celebrates the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Naraka.
Thank goodness for the ingterneck, else I’d never have googled the term “difference between Deepavali and Diwali“ and I’d never have landed on a blog post titled, “Difference between Diwali in North India and Deepavali in South India“.
And while I was at it, I looked up some more stuff about India and her peoples, just to add to the anecdote I’m about to put here about a platoon mate of mine who got really really offended when the Chinese platoon mates called him “Bangkalee” and “Keling kia” in what we thought was Hokkien, both being terms the older generations of Chinese used to call Indians, and akin to when every Singaporean calls any Caucasian “Ang Moh”.
“I am not from Kalinga, nor am I of Bengali origin”, said Corporal Selvam Sivaraman very eloquently, before he added just as eloquently, “you stupid Chinese communist bastard Ching Chong chow chee bye motherfuckers!”
So, yes, you should never anyhowly use the word “Bengali” or “Kalinga” to call any person of Indian origin unless they really were from those places. And even so, it pays to note that these terms, over the generations, have gained some sort of derogatory quality to them.
You could have the excuse that you grew up in the days before all schools had compulsory “racial harmony” days where every kid has to come in traditional ethnic costumes to better understand each other’s cultures. But it’s still up to you to go find out these things yourselves, and not wait for your platoon mate to set you right by screaming at you.
Besides, the last time I saw a Racial Harmony Day in a primary school, I saw one kid come dressed as Spider-Man.