Festival of Lights

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It’s that time again…a whole country focused on the same special occasion; debates and family rivalries abound; people of differing opinions come together to share one purpose…

I’m not talking about Election Day. I’m talking Thanksgiving – the oh-so-American holiday of gratitude that officially marks the beginning of the Holiday season. Gotcha!

Anyway, it turns out there is an Indian holiday that has something in common with our Thanksgiving, and one very inspiring woman who makes both traditions work for her.

Rohini Dey owns the fabulously successful Chicago restaurant Vermilion, which specializes in “Indian cuisine with a global twist.” In a recent Today’s Chicago Woman article she suggests that the Indian Festival of Lights, Diwali, might be the Indian equivalent of Thanksgiving. “Diwali is all about getting together and celebrating being thankful,” she says.

Diwali, which means “row of lamps,” is celebrated on the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) of the Hindu calendar month Ashwin, which means it usually falls in November. For Hindu families, it is one of the most important festivals of the year, and they make a point to come together to share in the traditional activities. (Sound familiar?) Instead of roasting a turkey, however, family members fill their homes with small clay lamps which are kept illuminated during the night. Other important traditions include a thorough house cleaning, new clothes, and plenty of sweets.

“One thing my mom made was relatively simple and one of a few things I still make for my daughters,” says Dey. “It’s an Indian rice pudding that’s very rich, like a Dulce de Leche. It’s heavy, sweet, warm and comforting,”

At her restaurant, Dey serves a Thanksgiving turkey dinner with an Indian twist: the bird is glazed in black cardamom and stuffed with cumin lentils.

Rohini Dey is one smart businesswoman. With a Master’s in economics and a Doctorate in Management Science, she worked for the World Bank and for McKinsey & Co before opening her restaurant. She’s a huge proponent of women in business, and the proper education of women worldwide. Not only is she an active member of The Chicago Network, The International Women’s Forum, and the NY Women’s Forum, but she also teaches and speaks about the power of women entrepreneurs. Check out Rohini Dey’s biography on Vermilion’s website for more inspiration. And, why not light a votive candle this Thanksgiving in solidarity with all those celebrating Diwali?

-Emily

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