(This story belonged to the years when the awareness of the harmful effects of fireworks on the Eco system was not fully known)
It was Diwali that day. The air was thick with smoke but full of fun and revelry and the atmosphere echoed with the laughter of children. The houses were all decorated in multi-coloured serial lights. The endless rows of diyas with dancing flames added magic to the ambiance. 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.
Siddharth and Ankita were sitting morose in the verandah watching the brightly-lit houses across the road. Siddharth put his arm around Ankita 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 entirely different. Their boy of eight years, Aniruddh, was busy a week before Diwali making endless list of crackers he wished to buy and in deciding how much of the money should go 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. His mother had an aversion for the loud detonations of the country made atom bombs. The boy and dad went with a predetermined budget only to be exceeded by several times. They came home with large packets that seemed almost impossible to finish single handedly even in a couple of days.
It was dark already. The loud explosions and brightness from the rockets and flower pots in the neighbourhood indicated the commencement of celebration. Aniruddh, despite his love for the fireworks, was a timid boy and afraid to light up the noisy stuff. He dragged his parents from the living room to help him in bursting the crackers. The boy let his dad do the lighting of crackers while he closed his ears with both palms and jumped with joy when he heard the muffled sounds.
There was a slum close by and about half a dozen urchins, half-clad, in unkempt hair, stood outside the gate and watched the display with awe. For the poor and the deprived, Diwali day was like any other day of toil and hunger. The children watched with covetous eyes the vast spread of crackers of assorted varieties kept in a corner. When one of the crackers did not go off, one boy from across the gate rushed inside to pick it up and examine. Siddharth shouted at the boy “You fool, don’t go near, it may burst”
It was then Aniruddh said, “I have 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? We have so much crackers to burst.”
His mom said “No, give them some crackers and send them away. You don’t have to rub shoulders with them.”
Aniruddh was adamant “Ma, I want them to enjoy as much as I do when dad lights up the crackers. They are also young like me and not accustomed to crackers. They will be in the lawn only for two hours. I will be happier to see them having fun along with me. Please do not say no.”
Siddharth intervened to say, “Ankita, let them also enjoy. Had I known Ranariddh’s mind earlier, I would have brought some clothes too for these urchins.”
Aniruddh 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 a few stray items which Aniruddh gave away to the boys. When they started to leave happily, Ankita 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.”
A year had since passed but the beaming and happy face of Aniruddh on the Diwali day was still fresh in their memory. A few months after Diwali, the boy died after a short ailment despite all the care and treatment.
When Ankita saw the urchins gathered at the gate again and seemed disappointed to see the dark house bereft of noise, brightness and particularly the pleasant boy. She could not suppress her tears. When Siddharth saw Ankita crying, he said “Get ready, let us go and get lots of crackers and sweets for Aniruddh’s friends. I will ask them to come after an hour for an encore of celebrations like last year. That would make Aniruddh happy.” She readily agreed and asked him to buy some shorts and T- shirts too for the boys.
When they returned back with the bundles the boys were eagerly waiting. Siddharth called them inside and gave them the new dresses to wear. Then under his supervision, the little urchins enjoyed to their hearts’ content the lighting of the crackers watched by Ankita with mixed feelings of joy and grief.
One little girl in that group innocently asked “Uncle, where is the boy who played with us last time? We enjoyed this more last year when he was around. Has he gone out of station?”
Ankita could not suppress her tears and covering her face with her sari she cried aloud. Siddharth told the girl “Aniruddh 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 speechless as if frozen, the little girl said “We are very sad. Had we known this earlier, we would not have made all this merriment.”
Ankita pulled the little girl to her side and said “Don’t feel sad. Aniruddh will be feeling happy wherever he is. All of you come each year on this day for making him and us happy.”