Diwali at HBS

Poornima Hanumara, Contributor

Poornima Hanumara, an HBS partner, reports on how some members of the HBS community celebrated a very unusual Diwali at HBS.

It was an unexpected and pleasant 70 degrees in November, and we had the good fortune of having a space to gather safely during times of Covid-19. This was the perfect setting for Diwali—the Indian Festival of Lights which celebrates the victory of light over darkness, and of good over evil.

Growing up in India, I would look forward to Diwali all year long. On that day, we would dress up in new clothes, visit our friends’ homes to eat various desserts and light fireworks into the late hours of the night. The celebrations would almost always include a large group of people—members of our apartment building, neighborhood, extended family and local community—all coming together with the common goal of enjoying the celebrations together.

Over the years, after I moved out of India and away from my family, Diwali has remained an important tradition. I have lived in six cities in the past 14 years and, in many of them, Diwali has been the pivotal moment where I started to build a community and experience a sense of belonging.

People of Indian origin living in the US typically throw house parties in the days leading up to the festival. In addition, there is almost always a big celebration by the local diaspora community on the actual day. Through these parties which welcome old friends and new acquaintances, and by either organizing or attending a community event, I would start feeling at home.

At HBS, I was overjoyed when our section-mates came together to organize Diwali. We rehearsed a flash mob for several days. Some of the attendees jumped in to decorate the Schwartz Pavilion with colorful curtains and paper fans. We collaborated to create a fun playlist and of course, we ordered a ton of food!

During the celebration, Indians and non-Indians alike dressed up in Indian attire. We ate traditional snacks of samoas and laddoos. The flash mob became a primer for a full-on Bollywood dance party. We discovered a few professional dancers in our section who taught the rest of us some moves. We also broke up into smaller groups to learn about how the festival is celebrated differently in different communities around the world. The culmination of the event was when we all lit electric candles together and neatly arranged them along the Pavillion, just like we would do with our families and communities back home.

Diwali this year was more special than any other years before. For me personally, moving to a new city where I did not know anyone, especially during Covid-19, was a scary experience. But Diwali delivered as always. I left the celebration with the familiar sense of belonging, and I hope it brought the same joy to others as well.

Poornima Hanumara is the partner-in-crime of Saswat Panda (MBA ’22). She is passionate about technology, emerging markets, and education. When not working, she is traveling. When not traveling, she does not know what else to do.