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Outsourcing Tradition: My New, Globalized Diwali

The holiday Diwali is underway in India. For decades, Sandip Roy spent most of the Indian holidays as an expatriate in California. But now that he's moved back to India, he says the country's new affluence is changing Diwali traditions.

Nothing says "festival" more than the sound of drums. Except this year they started two weeks early. And the drummers were outside a cellphone store. Once, that sound meant the Mother Goddess was coming home to Earth. Now it's selling mobile recharge options.

In the new India, the holidays from Durga Puja to Diwali seem to be all about selling, selling, selling. Festive Madness sales. Special Diwali offers on flat-screen TVs. The sweet shops are groaning under the weight of giant gift trays of sweets and cashews and almonds. At my gym, they are already advertising post-holiday weight loss specials.

Superstar Shah Rukh Khan showed up at our local mall to sell his big Diwali blockbuster release, Ra-One. He plays a superhero. My nephew and I went to see him and almost got crushed by thousands of delirious fans.

TV and radio are blasting the big hit song from the film.

"Who's the singer?" I ask my nephew .

"Oh, Akon," he tells me. That's the American rapper Akon — singing in Hindi.

I notice some of the boxes of Diwali fireworks have pictures of Harry Potter on them.

Help, my Diwali has been outsourced.

Things are just not the same, everyone complains. Too many people. All the sweets are store-bought. Government regulations mean even the fireworks are less noisy.

But then I see the man selling clay lamps at a makeshift stall. Rows and rows of same little lamps I've seen all my life.

Diwali is about coming home. Lord Ram came back from 14 years of exile on this day. And all the good citizens lit little clay lamps to welcome him home.

Somewhere in the middle of all these sales, that's the flickering spirit of the festival I knew.

I've been away even longer than Lord Ram. So I'm hoping one of those lamps out there on the night of Diwali is for me. A little clay lamp on a dark night. A shower of fire in the sky above.

That's Diwali enough for me.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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