Diwali was Nandu’s favourite festival. He used to love the sound of crackers bursting and giving out lights of various colours. Mesmerized by the beauty of his village, lit by hundreds of diyas he would often wonder that why didn’t people light their houses like that every night.
Nandu woke up early that morning; he knew that he would have to accompany his mother to the temple like every Diwali. He took a bath, wore the clothes his mother had kept aside for him, and with closed fists, shivering a bit, went to stand silently next to his mother who was busy preparing a plate adorned for offering prayers.
Nandu walked along his mother to the temple, many people had come to offer the morning prayers, other women wished his mother and caressed him, and it was because of him accompanying his mother that they recognised his veiled mother. Nandu was enthralled by the temple’s ambience and fragrance as always, and sat at the stairs staring at other children who had donned themselves in vivid colourful attires.
“Come Nandu lets go, your father must have woken up”, Nandu was jolted out of his thoughts by his mother’s call.
‘No maa, I’ll come later”, he replied.
He kept watching people visiting the temple, and most fascinating was the sight of the village headman and his family. They had adorned themselves in silk attire and gave a very classy gaze to people around them. He was surprised when the village headman’s wife gave him a one rupee coin while she climbed up the stairs. He didn’t understand why she did so, as he had never talked to her nor was known to her; he kept that coin in his pocket.
He decided to return home when hunger clawed his belly.
He had whatever his mother had prepared, helped her in the household work and went to sleep in the afternoon.
When he got up, his mother was busy decorating their hut with whatever she could manage. There were some flowers, mango leaves and a little bit of rice paste, with two small diyas in a plate.
“Why do you always light only two diyas maa, imagine how beautiful our house would look if you lit some more of them, you don’t know anything!!”, he said anxiously. His mother didn’t say anything.
“Will baba bring crackers for me?”, he suddenly enquired his mother. His mother looked at him with sullen eyes, she knew that his father would only return late in the night, robustly drunk; he had fought with her and had forcefully taken from her the money she had kept aside for Nandu, only to waste in gambling.
Drowned in some strange thoughts she took out an old wrinkled ten rupee note, “This is what I have managed to save for you, buy whatever you like , don’t buy sweets though, your mama has sent some for you”
Nandu took the note from her and went out happily.
There were celebrations all around, he felt so lively to be in the streets, people had decorated their houses, and some had even painted them new. He saw children enjoying various crackers. He was amazed by the sheer variety of crackers children had. He got scared when one of the crackers burst near him, which someone had probably thrown at him.
He kept browsing from one lane to another and finally stopped at a shop. He was perplexed by the wide range of crackers displayed; he couldn’t decide what to buy and got baffled for a moment. He had just ten rupees, which meant one rocket or two anars or five bombs. He started pondering about what to buy
“Rocket would be a waste, a zoom once and ten rupees gone”, he told himself.
Even anars would be a bad idea, they won’t last much, he thought.
Confused, he kept staring at the crackers when the shopkeeper hushed him away.
It had started mounting dark when he suddenly remembered the one rupee he had received in the morning; he bought two candies from it and went further into the village.
First he thought of going towards the temple, but rather decided to go towards the canal. He reached the other end of the village, and stood near the canal. His village looked very beautiful to him; there were stars in the sky that were gazing at him. The whole view made him believe that as if all the diyas were reflected in the sky.
He kept staring at the numerous diyas he could see, there were rockets bursting here or there in the sky.
The village headman’s house caught his attention, it looked like a palace to him, like the one he had seen in a poster, he wanted to see it up close.
He started walking towards the village headman’s house; there were lots of people around it. So he felt a bit afraid to go there, and hence decided to sit near a tree and look at the house which glittered as if the stars themselves had descended upon it.
He saw the village headman’s grandchildren enjoying on the roof his most beloved festival in all its glory and this brought a tinge of smile on his face.
He looked at the house again and it seemed to him as a newlywed bride, and the murkiness and shabbiness of his own house washed away from his mind.
Drowned in the panorama of light and sound, he dreamt of building his own house where the joy of Diwali never left and would be lit every night. Thinking about his own house which would be unique in all ways he fell asleep under the tree and dreamt of himself and his mother enjoying Diwali in his magnificent house.
The night of Diwali ended and the chirping of the birds brought with it the promise of a new morning, Nandu woke with a start, disoriented momentarily as to where he lay, and the thought of him staying away from his mother the whole night scared him and he immediately got up and ran towards his house.
The village headman’s house looked beautiful no more and the streets were silent, for Diwali had ended and in its wake it left darkened houses, silent streets almost paved with the remains of the burnt crackers.
He saw numerous burnt anars, leftover straws of rockets and other bits and pieces, and this melancholic view saddened him.
His thoughts turned towards something and his hands rummaged his pockets, and a smile of utter satisfaction and joy lit his face, for the ten rupee note still lay there safely.