Why Indians mustn't take offense to 'Diwali Mubarak'

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently  came in for a lot of Twitterati flak for having greeted Hindus ‘Diwali Mubarak!’

Here’s my humble effort at explaining why we must graciously accept good wishes from anyone and not try to give it religious, cultural or lingual colour.

Justin Trudeau

On the first day of Diwali, the first wishes I received were from a Muslim friend of mine. He warmly said, ‘Happy Diwali, have a prosperous one!’ I graciously accepted and reciprocated the greetings. What mattered to me most was that he thought it significant enough to send good wishes my way and be the first to do that, even though this was not particularly ‘his festival’, since it is mostly Hindus who celebrate it. The second call was from a Christian friend of mine who was seemingly more excited than me about indulging in Diwali festivities – puja (prayer), sweets, firecrackers, lighting lamps, et all, notwithstanding the lull in celebrations owing to the slump in the sale of firecrackers and the need for an environment-friendly Diwali. But I was much too glad that this year too she had organised a get-together at her place to celebrate Diwali, the way she has been doing our teenage years. Every year her Diwali party has had the same theme, ‘Everyone’s invited!’ At least everyone who believes that festivals are a time of togetherness, sharing, happiness – a cultural celebration that transcends all obstacles, even religious ones.

Then the text messages started pouring in from all my Hindu friends wanting to wish each other a very ‘Happy Diwali’.  Ironically enough, nobody used terms such as ‘Shubh Diwali’ or ‘Diwali ki badhaai’ or ‘Deepavali vazhtukal’ or ‘Deepavaliya shubhashayagalu’. I say ‘ironically’ because a day before Diwali, social media was agog with references to and tweets that lampooned Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for having wished everyone ‘Diwali Mubarak!’ on Twitter. Many Twitterati were displeased. His warm intent was belittled by the emphasis on his choice of words. For the uninitiated, the expression ‘Mubarak’, which is a greeting, has its origin in Arabic (some believe it’s origins lie in Urdu language) which is associated with Islam. Since Diwali is a Hindu festival, how dare Mr Trudeau use such a ‘mixed metaphor’ to send Diwali greetings? Some staunch Hindus replied to his Tweet, suggesting that the Canadian prime minister correct himself as the ‘proper’ form of greeting would have been to wish ‘Shubh Deepavali’ or ‘Diwali ki shubh kaamnaayein or Diwali ki badhaai, or any other greeting that uses pure Hindi words and not Urdu ones.

Mr Trudeau has been known to enthusiastically participate in Indian festivities every once in a while, possibly because of the large Indian population in Canada or maybe since he is inclined towards the Indian culture or because he is just a good human being. Not so long ago, in July this year, he performed a puja at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Toronto to emphasize how deeply Canada values the ‘special’ relationship it shares with India. He also celebrated the Indian Independence Day in August and won many hearts when he said ‘Jai Hind’, concluding his speech. How many prime ministers of other nations can boast of such a warm disposition towards Indians?

A greeting is a greeting is a greeting. Period. Thus, instead of fixating on the term ‘Mubarak’ as being Urdu in origin and thus terming it an inappropriate manner of greeting on Diwali, it would bode well for my fellow Indians to graciously accept and appreciate a foreigner’s efforts: more so since he is the prime minister of a country and also fully entirely conversant with the nitty gritty of Hinduism and the niceties associated with how to extend wishes.

In fact, if this were to be a language debate, it is imperative to remember that there are innumerable cross-over terms in Hindi which are of Urdu origin. For example, simple terms like ‘dost’ (friend), ‘dil’ (heart), ‘aurat’ (woman), ‘haalat’ (condition), ‘darwaaza’ (door), ‘kismat’ (fate), ‘vatan’ (country), ‘khwaab’ (dream) — which are often used in common parlance, are all of Urdu origin and are widely accepted across the length and breadth of the country. Speaking of which, in several parts of the Indian sub-continent where Hindi is not spoken, a lot of these terms are probably alien to many, but that’s an entirely different subject in itself. It is Hindustani, a rich blend of Hindi and Urdu, that is mostly spoken my millions in India.

I am a South Indian Hindu and I grew up in an environment where it was perfectly acceptable to wish my Muslim and Christian friends ‘Happy Eid’ or ‘Happy Christmas’ depending on the occasion, irrespective of the fact that ‘Happy’ wasn’t the most suitable prefix. Few people have corrected me and said it’s ‘Merry Christmas’, not because they would rather not accept the wishes owing to its roots in British English, but because ‘Happy’ is an emotion and ‘Merry’ is a behaviour. I myself believed that it is perfectly acceptable to wish someone ‘Diwali Mubarak’ until the PM of Canada was advised to correct himself.

Do you think it is unacceptable to wish someone ‘Diwali Mubarak’? How much of a difference does it make what language you wish someone in as long as warm, loving intent behind the message is communicated?

Share your comments below.