With henna, performances, and plenty of garlands – including one hanging from their infamous bell – the Australian Securities Exchange celebrated Diwali. Organised by the company’s Culture and Heritage Employee Networking Group, the event was a warm display of togetherness, connection, and joy.
Held within the ASX building in Circular Quay, Sydney, 250 employees of all different backgrounds and cultures were in attendance. Many embraced the direction to wear something colourful, ditching their typical officewear for red saris, yellow kurta pajamas, and pink salwar kameez.
This dress code applied regardless of other commitments; in her opening address to the room, ASX CEO Helen Lofthouse joked, “I’ve already had a meeting with a CEO in my sari!”
The ASX first celebrated Diwali seven years ago. Since then, it has grown to become a staple in the company’s calendar, alongside NAIDOC Week, Anzac Day, and Lunar New Year. It is put together by the Culture and Heritage Employee Networking Group, a volunteer group of company employees led by co-chairs Sanjay Mistry and Manjula Shirwaiker. Mistry proudly said that the event ran “even during COVID”, and Shirwaiker was happy to see the way it brings people together.
“It’s about people just wanting to know about each other,” Shirwaiker told Indian Link. “They see it as an occasion to come together, to celebrate. Cultural heritage is making those connections, and once you connect better you work better. You also connect at different levels – becoming friends more than colleagues, and breaking barriers.”
Learning about each other was a prominent theme throughout the function. After speeches from Lofthouse and Group Executive Clive Triance, who lit the diya together, ASX employees Neelakshi Bakshi and Karuna Polepally shared their personal experiences of Diwali. From the rangoli on the streets of their hometowns to the sharing of its Ramayana roots, the celebration was as educational as it was enjoyable.
The highlight for many of the attendees, however, was the invitation to dance. After dancers of the Nartan Institute of Performing Arts completed a few numbers, they beckoned to the crowd. A wary but exciting tension filled the air as people shuffled nervously, waiting to see which of their colleagues would volunteer. Not long after a brave few responded, and with Bollywood music blaring, the room was lit up. The dancing befitted a ‘90s Shah Rukh Khan film, and that wariness quickly went away. A true breaking of barriers, in a uniquely Diwali way.
Eventually the function space separated into three parts, with food on the left, the dance floor in the centre, and a photobooth and henna station on the right. But contrary to this separation was a sense of unity. Where Diwali was once a celebration left to the Indian community exclusively, the ASX showed that is no longer the case. Instead it is a chance to come together and bond, and celebrate the universal notion of light winning over dark.
As the ASX event proved, celebration can and should come to the workplace – dancing and clothing included.
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