By Arjun Soin
Coming from New Delhi, I’ve always known Stanford would broaden my cultural horizons in a multitude of ways. But on Halloween weekend, that implicit knowledge was manifested in reality in its truest form. Halloween spirit (although even “spirit” seems like an understatement) took over, and I felt like the course of life before and after that weekend was inconsequential.
The holiday suited me pretty well, as that is how I’ve grown up celebrating most grandiose Indian festivals – with the zest and zeal virtually like there is no tomorrow! I found a fair number of parallels, but there were some striking differences that drove me to put all of this on paper, to share the imprints that Halloween left on my mind. You may even find that my breakdown is more philosophical than you’ve ever imagined Halloween to be. But then again, I would urge the reader to think of this as a kaleidoscopic opinion of a first-time Halloween experience.
What was especially striking from a newbie’s perspective was the spontaneity associated with every aspect of it. It was almost as if “time and tide wait for no man” could be rephrased to include Halloween along with time and tide. Halloween came like a fad, I soaked it in with utmost fervor, and then off it went at the drop of a hat – leaving behind ephemeral memories and another year’s eagerness.
Or maybe that’s just the case with my first-time engrossment. Either way, I do know that it was gripping as ever and that experiencing my first proper Halloween on a campus with significant festive frenzy made it all even more worth it. I say “proper” because trick-or-treating is an aspect of Halloween that has actually caught up in India and across other Asian countries of late. So, one could say I’ve experienced traces of Halloween.
Of the many notions I learned are the bedrocks of Halloween, the one that resonated with me the most was by far the sense of inclusion it inspires. The implication evident here was a sense of unity that arises from each individual putting his/her innate identity aside for a day and joining the rest of the community in adopting a makeshift one. Whether that new avatar transpires thought-provoking or even flippant, merely having it in place serves the purpose of the celebration. In today’s day and age where our overly hasty lives revolve around the next deadline, the next meeting, the next commitment, etc., going into incognito mode and absolutely forgetting about the pressures of the world out there are more than welcome.
Next for me came the overarching principle of self-expression, one that every celebrator seemed to be gaga over. Back in India, since a vast majority of festivals are collectivistic in nature, witnessing the epitome of individual expression was a much-needed change. It made me realize that self-expression is all but an avenue in disguise for collective expression – quite the contrary to what previous festive extravaganzas had taught me.
The idea of going all out, with one’s imagination knowing no bounds with “dressing up” (as formal as I’ve tried to sound with Halloween terminology, that was definitely the most frequent term I heard) is one that will perhaps stay with me for a while.
In terms of the fun and frolic, Halloween evoked some mainstream Indian festivals, including the one called Diwali, which was in fact celebrated with great gusto amongst the Indian community at FloMo yesterday (the Diwali festivities are slated to carry on at the Old Union today). But the similarity transcends all possible celebratory basics – both happen to be occasions that are much-awaited and surrounded by considerable hype in the hectic gearing up for their onsets.
While Diwali is traditionally a festival rife with lights, Halloween lightens up the whole day (remember those gleaming costumes?). The principle of distributing sweets remains predominant during Diwali — almost playing the counterpart of trick-or-treating. Diwali has brought back some of the festive ardor that engulfed Stanford during Halloween weekend, or “Halloweekend” as it fortuitously was this time. I think it is only apt for me to conclude by affirming that Halloween did indeed open my mind to newer concepts and interpretations of what it means to be festive, despite the fact that I hail from a land where festival is, more often than not, a perpetual existence in society.
Contact Arjun Soin at asoin ‘at’ stanford.edu.