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Lighting up Leicester

October 18, 2009

A little diversion from e-learning today…

In the Leicester City Council’s leaflet on attractions for the Autumn and Winter of 2009, the following festivals and events are listed: the festival of Eid to mark the end of Ramadan, Diwali Day, the Hindu festival of lights, “Bonfire” Night (commemorating Guy Fawkes, the bloke who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in England in 1605), the Christmas lights switch-on, and last but not least, the Hanukkah lights switch-on. A brilliant reflection on the diversity of this little city which is renowned for being the first British city in which all demographic groups are minorities.

The Diwali festival last night marked the beginning of the new year in the Hindu calendar. (It’s 2066, I learned!) The Diwali celebrations in Leicester are known for being the largest outside of India – a crowd of at least 35,000 was predicted. I can’t say how many people were there, but the crowd occupied every square inch of a huge recreation ground near the city centre. And what a mellow, friendly, sober assortment of people they were. Everyone from the tiniest tots to the most senior great-grandparents was there. And every skin colour and cultural background seemed to be represented. There was no pushing or shoving, no drinking, no antisocial behaviour. Everyone whooped and bopped along delightedly to the Bollywood music that was blaring, and clapped encouragingly for the young dancers on the stage. They even sat (or rather stood) patiently through several rather bland speeches by various important members of the community. The only slight disturbance came when the Chair of the Hindu Festivals Committee suffered a rather unfortunate slip of the tongue and announced with gusto that Diwali was all about the triumph of evil over good! The crowd erupted in good-natured mock shock, and he sheepishly attempted to recover by saying he was just testing us to make sure we were listening… at which the crowd emitted a collective condoning groan. Subsequent speakers were at pains to assure us that Diwali was about the triumph of good over evil, just in case there was any doubt!

The programme ended with a spectacular fireworks display, after which everyone proceeded to flow out through the exits in a perfectly orderly manner, the children weaving through the spaces in the crowd with their light sabres ablaze.

Whoever thinks that immigration is a “problem” in England hasn’t seen Leicester during Diwali.

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