Diwali: An Illumination of Past and Present 

| Contributing Writer

Anticipation buzzed in the air as Edison theater filled to near-capacity on Friday evening for the opening performance of Diwali. 

The first performance, WU Classical, embodied the meaning of Diwali as “the festival of lights”. Sheathed in darkness, the group began by illuminating the stage with light that shone upon vibrantly-colored costumes. The color, coupled with the masterful choreography, compelled the attention of the audience from the very first moment. 

Themed “A Time Capsule,” Diwali was both a look toward the traditional beauty of the past and a glimpse of the present moment. The all-female South Asian dance team, WU Garba, showcased the time-honored dance form with a lightness of modernity: their matching red and black skirts swished in unison to tunes such as “Make Some Noise For Desi Boyz” by KK.

This look to the past extended to that of Washu’s Ashoka history. This year’s skit opened with an immediate reference to the controversy of last year’s performance, which focused on a group of students forming their own dance team, but received criticism for misuse of AAVE and jokes about predatory behavior. 

This year, the skit opened with the recreation of an Ashoka General Body Meeting, where members are planning a fictitious performance. One actor claimed that the skit is of little importance, to which another retorted, “That’s not true. Last year, the skit was all anyone could talk about!” Having addressed the elephant in the room, the audience laughed and the act moved forward. 

The piece portrayed the search for the South Asian community within WashU via an entirely fictitious living community in fraternity row: Sigma Chai. Students found community within the skit, each with a desire to connect more deeply to Desi culture. The overbearing and hilarious character of “Nani”, the grandmother of the Chapter’s founding member, took care of the residents with a Chai in hand. 

“Sigma Chai”, while often hilarious, underscored the need for a strong sense of South Asian community. The skit also touched on white ignorance. One actor played a fictitious (yet incredibly realistic) Danforth descendant who sought the company of Sigma Chai residents out of a desire for math tutoring. His racist belifs were highlighted as contradictions, such as when he claimed that Indians are doomed to remain “stuck as factory workers” whilst simultaneously pursuing their academic guidance.

To add a layer of complexity, the performance further displayed divisions within the South Asian community itself: families’ pressures to conform via a predetermined sexuality or career path as well as the desire to prove one’s “Indianness” in a Western setting. Thus, the skit provided a forum for productive dialogue on acceptance both within and beyond the diaspora. 

The show continued as Desi culture was simultaneously celebrated and made anew by the fusion acapella group WU Sur Taal Laya. Their rendition of the Bollywood classic “Deewani Mustani” by Shreya Ghoshal and Ganesh Chandanshive was paired with well-known Western songs such as “Boyfriend” by Justin Bieber and “God is a Woman” by Ariana Grande. The coupling was exquisite.

The annual fashion show was an acknowledgment of the diversity within the diaspora. Models strutted across the stage to a number of Desi songs in garments representing Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Once again, the art of bringing the traditional and contemporary into conversation with one another was on full display. 

Diwali managed to bring together not only members of the South Asian diaspora, but the WashU community at large. Each performance was executed beautifully, illuminating the importance of communal belonging and the meaning of a connection to one’s past and present. As performers returned to the stage for their final bows and applause filled the Edison Theatre, the audience was once again reminded that, above all, Diwali is a celebration of life.

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