After Anitha Reddy Yajnik and family settled in Bedford, she wished to explore and embrace the town’s Indian community.
Yajnik’s search became an easier task than she had first imaged.
“I decided to form my own community,” Yajnik said, at first going through her daughter’s school directory and emailing anyone whose last name sounded Indian. “I had 18 people in my house the first meeting that day.”
Yajnik moved to Bedford in 2011 and helped organize Bedford’s South Asian or Desi community. The community, including those from Pakistan and Bangladesh, held its first Diwali festival in 2013.
This past November, the festival that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, also called the Festival of Lights, continues to grow. The 2019 past party was held in the function hall at St. Michael’s Parish and was booked to capacity in record time.
Everyone, regardless of culture or belief, is invited to a party of music, dance, and food. Yajnik highlighted the quality of the food, provided by a vendor in Connecticut, as an important part of this year’s successful celebration.
“[The festival] brings people together in a warm, friendly environment,” Yajnik said. “It’s the easiest way to bring people together. We want to make everyone comfortable and at ease.”
Next year’s festival has already been scheduled for Nov. 7. The Bedford committee also includes Lakshmi Kona, Tanuja Sud, Manisha Sharma, Parvati Susarla. Namrata Shah, Shalini Appaiah, Madhu Yannala, Rajini Tanneti, Sudha Ramanathan, Ritu Bhutda, Anjana Nambiar, Shalaka Munjal, Lalitha Ranganath, Himabindu Naidu, Taruna Shah, Deepti Matrona, Sarita Pillai, Amita Malik, and Payal Goel.
“It’s been very, very enlightening,” Yajnik said of Bedford’s annual Diwali commemoration. “I don’t think I appreciated what I had when I grew up. Now I miss that. I liked what we had.”
Diwali is among the major Hindu festivals and is observed for five days, mostly in the home. It also marks the beginning of the new year.
The public celebration includes gift-giving, decorating of houses, fireworks, and feasting. The events also embrace the culture’s love of movies and colorful clothing.
Bollywood, the mix of Bombay (now known as Mumbai) and Hollywood, boasts the world’s largest film industry. Those films, a mixture of music and dance and a film, are inevitably referenced during the gala.
“Indians love dancing,” Yajnik said. “We’re open to everybody who wants to celebrate what we’re celebrating.
“Bollywood is like a religion. Like we don’t have enough.”
The Yajniks, like many from that part of the world, came to the United States to pursue education. Anitha’s husband, Shriman, came to Chicago in 1999 to finish his Master’s Degree, and she eventually followed. Their family now includes a daughter and a son.
Because Yajnik had family in California, she had an idea of what to expect in the United States. There was, however, another issue. It was something Yajnik had in common with others in the community, and that eventually lead to the Diwali celebration in Bedford.
“The culture shock came later,” she said. “It’s when you realize you don’t have people around you. I was newly married, and I needed my culture. I needed to bring that into my life.”
That changed once the family settled in Bedford.
“It’s important to reflect on the past and move forward to the future,” Yajnik said. “Most of us have family in India. It’s a very tight-knit group. We celebrate every birthday. When somebody’s sick, we bring food. We’re building a community.”
The growing Desi community is more than happy to share.