Students in the South Asian Affinity Group organized the school's annual Diwali celebration in early November. Diwali, which this year fell on November 4, is a festival of lights, and symbolically celebrates the triumph of inner light over spiritual darkness. It is a major Hindu holiday and is also celebrated by Sikhs, Buddhists, and other religions practiced in South Asian countries.
A Diwali celebration and chapel service has become an annual tradition at St. Andrew's. This year, students decorated the Dining Hall with diyas (candles) for Wednesday night dinner, and created a rangoli—an colorful, impermanent tabletop design created with sand, rocks, flowers or other material, common in Indian households—on the slate walkway on the Front Lawn (seen below). The Wednesday night Chapel service they organized included a poem, a prayer in Sanskrit, a musical performance by Riya Soni ’24 and the Andrean Ensemble, and talks by Satchel Barnes ’24, Aina Puri ’23, Pranay Sanwal ’22, and Arnav Sehgal ’24, which you can also read below.
"Sonal [Bhatia ’22] and Pranay have been in the South Asian Affinity Group since their arrival to SAS, and they currently serve as co-leaders," said Neemu Reddy, who is the faculty advisor to the South Asian Affinity Group. "As senior leaders, they have been instrumental in creating a feeling of community and connection within the group, and this year's Diwali chapel program was a beautiful demonstration of those close bonds. Each member of the program took part in decorating the Dining Hall, setting diyas in the chapel, and displaying the rangoli in the courtyard."
"Celebrating Diwali at St. Andrew's this year was an incredible experience for our South Asian Affinity Group and the entire community," said South Asian Affinity Group co-leader Sonal Bhatia ’22. "Thanks to SAGE, we shared South Asian food, wore traditional and colorful clothing, designed a Rangoli on the Front Lawn, and spoke to the community about how our South Asian experiences have defined who we are today. Each fall, celebrating Diwali on campus has helped us feel at home at St. Andrew's, with our traditional having been welcomed by the entire community. When we join the St. Andrew's family, we all come from different places—with different foods, cultures, celebrations, and faiths. It is so empowering and meaningful to share those differences and to celebrate with one another on occasions like Diwali."
Diwali 2021 Chapel Talks
Arnav Sehgal ’24
Hello everyone, and welcome to our 2021 Diwali Chapel. Diwali, or the festival of lights, is seen as the largest and most widely celebrated holiday of the year in India and many surrounding South Asian countries. This celebration is held in honor of the triumphant return of King Rama after his 14-year exile and his heroic rescue of his wife Sita from Ravana, an evil ten-headed demon. Over the course of the five-day celebration of Diwali, people will dress up in their best clothes, light up their houses with diyas, decorate their houses with rangoli, and worship Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth. It is also very common to light off fireworks throughout the night and gather with family and friends for feasts and celebrations.
Although Diwali is the “festival of lights,” candles and fireworks are not the true meaning of the light in diwali. Diwali is the festival of “Good over Evil'” and “Light over Darkness.” Homes are decorated with lanterns and candles to fill the home with the light of God, and to dispel the darkness and evil. Diwali is a time to let the darkness in your past go and to welcome the light of new into your world. For the South Asain Affinity Group, Diwali is a time to reconnect with our culture and heritage. Being away from home and family throughout the year, engrossed in St. Andrew's culture can be difficult. Diwali allows us to connect with family and to reconnect with our culture. For many, Diwali is seen as a fresh start and a new beginning. In this chapel, you will hear some of the South Asian student’s experiences with Diwali and their overall identity and what being South Asian means to them. Thank you for listening, and I hope you enjoy the service.
Satchel Barnes ’24
Sri Lanka is my home. Sure, I've spent time growing up in Philly over the years, was born there
and spent my first few formative years there, but it’s not my home in the way that Sri Lanka—my unassuming, secluded island in South Asia—is. It’s a flawed, poor place in the eyes of the
beholder, but there's something about life in Asia that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
Especially in a place as small as Colombo. In Colombo, everybody knew everyone, and everything was common knowledge the second it took place. It’s almost as if St. Andrew's was a whole city. Maybe that’s why I feel so at home here too.
Some of you—actually, a lot of you—probably heard my elder brother’s [Luke Barnes ’21] speech about his culture shock transitioning from America to Sri Lanka, and how he eventually conformed to it. This wasn’t the case for me. Sri Lanka formed me. I was three when we moved there, and had barely begun to be aware of myself, and the world around me. Sri Lanka welcomed me with open arms. This beachy, cacophonic mixing bowl of ethnicities and cultures became my home instantly, and I hit the ground running. I started school very soon after I got there, and made some of my best friends to this day. Sri Lanka taught me about family, and family values in a very tight-knit and almost claustrophobic way, and to be honest, I miss it. I find myself sitting in my dorm room, eating my second bowl of instant ramen of the day, reminiscing about eating rice and curry with my mom, complaining about how much I didn't want to have it, like we didn't have it every week for 15 years. I miss Saturday lunches with my whole family, and having to deflect my grandfather’s routine question about whether or not I had a girlfriend yet. He always knew, somehow. I miss my brother throwing a fit every time we put on a shirt that was the same color before we went out, because chances were that we’d run into each other on that small island, and he detested the thought of us matching. My family in Sri Lanka taught me all about life. The hardships and celebrations. The ups and downs. And through it all, I knew that no matter what I did or what happened to me, they would be there for me, in whatever form I needed them to be. I miss them everyday, and I hope they know just how much I do. Every day felt like a new possibility when I was there, and even though I didn't, I still feel as if I shouldn't have taken any moment for granted. Sri Lanka is my home in the purest form of the word, and I'm glad that we can share a celebration as special as Diwali with you all today, so that maybe you guys can experience a piece of what I did.
Aina Puri ’23
My parents never put much pressure on my older brother Neel [Puri ’16] and me to do very well in school. They encouraged us to work ahead and apply ourselves, but they knew that ultimately, only we control our success, and we decide what kind of people we want to be.
Throughout elementary and middle school, I watched Neel thrive at St. Andrew's and then in college. I admired his fervor for learning and improvement, but I never knew what motivated him. One of our conversations many years later helped me understand his dedication to his work and changed my perspective of my future.
In eighth grade, I had an ongoing career crisis. Art and medicine were my main interests, but I could only focus on one in my high school applications. My dad and I would have lighthearted poolside discussions about my future, and he often mentioned the various advantages of going into medicine. One day, he finally said it: “I want at least one of my children to be a doctor like me.” I relished the idea of becoming a doctor, especially if it meant being my dad’s favorite child. However, when I broached the idea to Neel, he almost recoiled. In fact, any mention of it escalated into a debate between him and my dad about my future in which I was a silent participant.
Neel encouraged me to hone my artistic skills and incorporate art into my career. We had several conversations about the possibility of me studying medicine, but I still could not comprehend his aversion to the idea. Then, in the midst of one of these conversations, he blurted out, “Do you really want to be a doctor? Don’t you want to do more than our parents?” I shook off the question, but I felt blindsided in the moment. Until that point, I hadn’t considered how our parents’ decision to immigrate should determine our futures.
My parents left behind everything they knew for more educational and job opportunities not only for themselves but also for their children. The least Neel and I can do to show our gratitude is recognize these privileges. For him, that means pushing forward with the mindset that every exam, every job interview, and every late-night are manifestations of our parents’ sacrifices. We have the freedom to follow our passions without the fear of not having enough money to restart our lives in another country.
As I inch closer to senior year and having more ability to make decisions for myself, my priority is to pursue my interest, whether it be medicine, art, or something completely unexpected. For me, success is taking advantage of the opportunity that my parents gave me to live a gratifying and fulfilling life.
Pranay Sanwal ’22
It was the year 2002. Around seven families of Indian doctors had recently moved to the world-famous town of Lewes, Delaware and decided they wanted to start families at this particular moment in time. For a reason beyond my comprehension, my individual consciousness was attached to one of the bodies in creation. This unity of body and mind resulted in my birth at 3:48 PM on November 21, 2003 at Beebe hospital. The moment my timer began. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
We grew up together. Siblings from another mother. Me, Amith, Sumira, Puja, Ayush, Big Ria, Little Ria, Arnav, Anch, and Anisha. We would spend every other weekend at each other's houses because of our parents' excuse to socialize with other Indians but more importantly, our shared cultural identity. Hours and hours were spent in childhood fantasy, powered by the vast cosmos of our imagination. Martyrs living life through the purity of our innocence—which usually fades with the rays of time. Red Rover, Red Rover—this was a simple game we used to always play. Two human chains facing each other, and the objective of this game was to penetrate the other side’s blockade; if the other team called "Red rover, red rover, let [your name] come over," you had to go for it. Heart thumping with the fear of my name permeating the air. Goosebumps sparking shivers down my spine. Stars, dim spectators of this battle of emotion. A war between collectives of young soldiers willing to sacrifice reason in order to achieve their goal. “Pranay come over." And like that, I was off in the hands of my naked emotion. A young Simba trying to break the unification of the east side wildebeest. I crashed into the wall of my enemies like “a bird in flight glimpsed from a window," fleeting beauty. I crashed without an indent. Nevertheless, after my failure, I simply joined the other side of my comrades, and we played until the bright disk of the sun soared down and gave way to the cover of darkness. Moments like these made me cherish the relationships and moments my identity allowed me to experience.
Fast-forward ten years later: I was a high schooler plunged into a world infatuated with identity. A social construct that, in my opinion, has been used to preserve a fictitious attachment to this world. The distribution of ideas such as identity have cloaked the reality that humans are all the same. A truth man has evaded by destroying this world in order to preserve its elusive idea of the individual—definition, beliefs, personas. An identity that is derived from our acceptance of “defined” societal characterizations of the individual. Brown. Indian. Male. Then, there are the external stereotypes based on other people's perceptions of my socially-constructed identity. Doctor. Philosophical. Hindu. Atheist. Progressive. The ticking time bomb finally exploded. I couldn’t endure the idea of the world trying to define me before I even could even define myself. This lack of control over my own identity sunk my body and mind into a void of complete detachment.
As my childhood years sadly come to a close, my increased perspective has finally allowed me to develop my own truth about the conflict that I had let fade away into the depths of teenage chaos. Identity was the source of both my attachment and detachment to the world. During my childhood years, the culture and relationships gave me a pride one only experiences in a state of sheer purity. A spiritual essence that gave meaning to this barren world. On the other hand, with time, my increase in perspective allowed me to see through filters that controlled not only my own perception but my external persona. I realized that I valued the connections and moments experienced through my identity. People like Amith, the greatest friend a man could have, Sumira, one of the kindest souls on earth, Puja, a person who will always be there for you, Ayush, someone who’ll always listen, Big Ria, someone who is very wise, Little Ria, a person who will always turn your frown upside down, Arnav, well y'all know Arnav, Anch and Anisha, the youngest, and probably the brightest members of our group. And finally, Vishnu, who joined only four years ago but is someone who makes our group feel whole. These are people who I love with an emotion past the realm of description. A collective alongside whom I wouldn’t mind seeing my final sunrise. Even as the group fades with the rays of time, they will have a special place in my heart for the rest of my life.
On the other hand, I still have a long journey ahead of me. I will meet people who have no perception of my existence at this current moment. I want them to view the undefined persona of a being who is in a state of constant adaptation. No matter their beliefs, race, color, religion, etc., I want them to see me in my most vulnerable state. A reality only plausible through the fading of my labels to reveal a martyr defying the very concept of reason. The eclipse of the consciousness watching my life. A mind state buried in the depths of my past. The sage lieutenant who was a soldier in this 21st century war of emotion. The last of my purity. Red Rover, Red Rover.