It was Diwali that day. The air was thick with fun and revelry and echoed with the laughter of children. The houses were all decorated in multi-coloured serial lights. The children were seen running hither and thither bursting crackers and lighting sparklers. The smell of elachi, kesar and other spices wafted from the kitchens that were preparing scrumptious sweets and namkeens. One could see well-dressed men and women hurrying in cars to make the last minute purchases of dry fruits, gift boxes, sweets and clothes. Gopal and Vijaya were sitting morose in the veranda watching the brightly-lit houses across the road. Gopal put his arm around Vijaya and gently patted her comfortingly without uttering one word. Both knew what was passing through each other’s mind.
Exactly a year before, the scene was different. Their boy of eight years, Sunil, dragged both of them out to help him in lighting the fireworks. For a month in advance he was busy making endless list of crackers he wished to buy and deciding how much of the money should be for the light and how much for the sound varieties. He liked long Lars that would bring to a stop the entire neighbourhood with its noise and dazzle. He also had a fancy for the multi-coloured fountains and flower pots while his dad had a weakness for rockets. The boy and this dad would go with a predetermined budget only to be exceeded by several times. They would come home with large packets that would be almost impossible to finish.
They were lighting the crackers after it grew dark. Sunil, despite his love for the fireworks, was a timid boy and afraid to light up the noisy stuff. He would ask his dad for help. There was a slum close by and about half a dozen urchins, half-clad, in unkempt hair, stood outside the fence and watched the display with awe. For the poor and the deprived, Deepavali was like any other day of toil and hunger. The children would with covetous eyes watch the vast spread of crackers of assorted varieties in a corner. When one of the crackers did not go off, a boy from across the fence ran inside to pick it up .Gopal shouted at the boy “You fool, don’t go near, it may burst” It was then Sunil had said, “Can I make a request, Dad? They are all very poor and do not have the money to buy even a shirt. They are as young as I am.Can I call them also to join in the fun?” His mom said “No, give them some crackers and send them away. You don’t have to rub shoulders with them.” Sunil was adamant “Ma, I want them to enjoy as much as I do when Dad lights up the crackers. They will be here only this evening for two hours. Please do not say no.” Gopal intervened to say, “Vijaya, let them also enjoy. Had I known Sunil’s mind earlier, I would have brought some clothes too.”
Sunil was very happy and called the children to come in. For the next two hours it was a riot of laughter and gaiety amidst the glittering light and colour. The entire lot was finished except for stray items which Sunil gave away to the boys. When they started to leave, Vijaya called them in and said “Don’t go away. Come inside and wash your hands. I will give you some sweets and snacks to eat.”
The beaming and happy face of Sunil was still fresh in their minds. Despite all the care and treatment the boy died last year struck down by leukaemia, a few months after Diwali. When Gopal saw Vijaya crying, he said “Get up, let us go and get lots of crackers and sweets for Sunil’s friends. They are bound to come looking for an encore of last year’s happy experience.” She readily agreed and wanted him to buy some shorts and T- shirts too for the boys. When they returned back with the bundles, it was just in time as the boys were turning disappointed in seeing the house bereft of the brightness, noise and more particularly the boy. Gopal called them inside and gave them the new dresses. Then under his supervision, the little urchins enjoyed to their hearts’ content the lighting of the crackers. One little girl in that group innocently asked “Uncle, where is the boy who played with us last time. We enjoyed this more when he was around. Has he gone out of station?” Vijaya could not suppress her tears and covering her face with her sari she cried aloud. Gopal told the girl “Sunil is no more. We did this as we felt he would be happy if he could see you all in smiles today.” As the entire lot of urchins stood as if frozen, the little girl said “We are very sad. Had we known this earlier, we would not have made all this merriment.” Vijaya pulled the little girl to her side and said “Don’t feel sad. Sunil is feeling happy wherever he is. Come each year on this day for making him happy.” Kpartha12@hotmail.com