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Tuesday 27 June 2017

Happy Diwali – the Indian Festival of Lights

Posted in: True Stories
By Matt Akersten - 22nd October 2006

Sanjay Dayal
Sanjay Dayal, 20, has just led his dance troupe to victory at the Diwali Festival of Lights in Auckland. “I didn’t know of any other gay Indians when I came out,” he tells

He was born here in New Zealand, but Sanjay's background country is India, and he looks forward to the Diwali festival here every year.

Last year was his first time dancing on stage – he enjoyed it so much he got a group together and won the dance contest at the Diwali Festival of Lights in Downtown Auckland last weekend. “It's heaps of fun – my group had eight guys in it, we practiced for five two-hour sessions, but the routine we ended up winning the competition with, we learnt that in one day. There were 20 groups of dancers so we were honoured to win,” he smiles.

Sanjay says he knew he was gay in his teenage years. “I first came out to one of my best mates. It was real awkward, because I liked him. But I told him and he said ‘oh, that's cool, that's fine with me.' It was last year, when I was nineteen.”

His parents know. “At first they were real hesitant and worried about cultural things. They both cried at the time, so it was an awkward situation. The Indian community are hard-out gossip types, and being gay can be an unheard-of thing. So I think that's what they were upset about. I didn't know of any other gay Indians when I came out. Now I know one other.

“But my parents are fine with it now. I've got an older sister and a younger brother. They're sweet with it too.”

Sanjay now has a boyfriend, Wayne, and they've been going out together five months.

Diwali, also known as Deepavali – literally meaning a ‘row of lamps' - is celebrated throughout India, and in Indian communities around the world. It is colloquially known as ‘The Festival of Lights' - the time when families light small oil lamps (known as diyas) and candles around the home and set off firecrackers and fireworks.

The spiritual side of Indian culture is a huge part of Sanjay's and his family's life, but he admits, “I don't really understand it, but I just go along with it because that's how I've been brought up. Mum just tells me little bits and pieces.”

Does Sanjay have any advice for young Indian people thinking about coming out? “Yeah – well, it depends how your parents are,” he answers candidly. “My parents were sweet. With some people the religion takes over too much. Being Indian you're brought up with these set rules and you don't ever disrespect them. When I tell people about difficult times, they say ‘why don't you move out, why don't you go against it, but that would be choosing to rebel and that wouldn't be me.

“For some people it's OK, just come out to your closest friends and people that mean something to you, but otherwise, don't really mention it. Most of the Indian crowd around me don't know I'm gay. And I don't intend on telling them. Because it's just the whole hater, gossip sort of thing. I wouldn't say it's homophobia, it's just arrogance, and turning their noses up at you.”

The Diwali Festival of Lights is a chance to experience a traditional Indian festival in New Zealand with food, free entertainment, Bollywood dancing, traditional crafts, and more. It's organised and sponsored by Auckland City in partnership with the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

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Matt Akersten - 22nd October 2006