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by Dakshina Gammanpila

The clocks went back last weekend in the UK, in addition to gaining an hour of sleep, the drawing in of winter nights heralds a time of transition and change. We have moved away from the autumnal equinox where the days and nights are more or less of equal length. Nature seems to mimic that with the leaves changing hues and trees shedding their foliage in preparation for what lies ahead. Expats (especially those new to Delhi) have the additional transition of moving our lives wholesale to a different city, country or continent, putting our ‘new normal’ in place and learning about the culture which surrounds us.  

Regardless of where on the globe we grew up there is something that draws us, moth-like, to light. Our eyes seek it out the horizon and our skin craves the warmth of sunshine. Despite its danger fire fascinates us with its beauty, for after all we are simple creatures. It is perhaps then no surprise that there are those that suffer from a condition associated with the winter nights SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, relating to the changing seasons and altered amounts of sunlight.

Having written columns on 3 continents one thing is common that words and pictures soothe they connect us make us think, laugh or cry. They can be controversial, thought-provoking or soothing. Words literally light our way. Undoubtedly lockdown wherever you are has sapped us of energy and we need to find joy in the little things and help to protect those, whatever and whomever they may be. Like a torch in the darkness words and books have helped to guide me through my life and no more so than now.  Trying to negotiate the winter months I seek images and phrases light my path.

The photographs I took for the first two columns for ‘Mangoli’ focused on light and brightness as an antidote to the weather (be that winter darkness or air pollution) and also our mental states as psychological darkness feels all too prevalent. The first was a sunlit walk in a park with my son and the second, with the Harvest and Halloween theme in mind, was a field of pumpkins in the late Autumn sunshine on a farm near to where I grew up, known as The Garden of England. This week’s picture was taken as dusk was coming on reminding me that we would soon be hunkering down and reserving our energy and our mental well-being, whilst holding on to that sense of light and of reawakening.

Light will have featured in your festivals and celebrations. Think of the candles and fairy lights, lanterns and flames. We always look with wonder on sparklers and fireworks, I recall the “oohs!” and “ahhs!” of Bonfire Night in early November closely following the glow of a pumpkin lantern at Halloween. Diwali is known as the festival of Lights where candles or diyas are placed at the entrance to houses to guide the goddess to your door. All of us will have to adapt our chosen holidays and festivals this year and many of us have already been creative about altering our cherished celebrations, not easy when those celebrations are about people. Scaled down festivities whatever your race, religion or cultural background at this time is imperative for the health of our families and that of society as a whole.

Halloween or All Hallows Eve has Pagan, Celtic and Christian origins and is the night before All Saints Day, I have written about it many times over the years. In its first incarnation, instead of ghosts and ghouls, people dressed as saints and went door to door. Interesting that we are also fascinated with darkness and all that is associated with that. Covid may have put paid to that as at present we feel the need for escapism to hibernate, to snuggle up and nourish our inner light. In October there have been numerous awareness raising campaigns in the UK, particularly focusing on health and self-care as anxiety across all age groups has risen dramatically. In the coming weeks I will be exploring a few of these: Expat transitions, mental well-being, body and mind awareness and women’s health to name a few.

Transition as well as a time for looking forward is a time to reflect. In the Spring I was asked to write a piece on Parenting in the time of Corona  – it was aimed at students but through the lens of living overseas and also well-being. The young adults commissioned a follow-up article which caused me to look back on the last 6 months (has it really been half a year?) and the experience of lockdown. It was an exercise in realism and positivity (even when we don’t always feel it). I went back to basics as a parent and a professional employing techniques and strategies that I had used over the past two decades working with people diagnosed with long term health conditions including HIV, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, compromised respiratory systems and all manner of mental health concerns, all wanting to gain quality and meaning; to move from darkness into light. Sometimes it is simply a question of understanding the nature of uncertainty, something that I have known my entire adult life and remembering that even in a life of uncertainty there are constants. Nature and light are two of those. We are desperately in need of levity and escapism and we need to acknowledge that, if we can’t get out into Nature (and it’s not always possible), then there are other ways to try and banish the gloom.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Camus  ‘Autumn is a second Spring when every leaf is a flame’. Find your flame and keep it burning bright.

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