Diwali Musings

Posted on October 20, 2006

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I met Meena after a long time today. I have known her for some years. But since I moved out of Ahmedabad, she and I have not been in touch. Meena and I met by chance, at my cousin’s place, and the moment we met, I knew we had a connection. Yea, I know, I sound cliché, but its true!

Today also, I met her by chance. I am back in Ahmedabad after a long 3 years and I would be here for Diwali after almost 5 years. And I thought I would eat Pani Puri at my favourite stall, and there she was! We hugged and met like we would melt and become one body.

Its amazing to meet Meena, she has an electrifying smile. She has an impeccable spirit and of course, she is naughty and brings out the child in me. We sat talking and not talking of anything in particular. Sometimes looking at each other’s “puchka-filled” face and calling each other “gubbara” meaning balloon.

It was a perfect evening. The fading light of the sun, the slowly lighting up balconies, the traffic hurried and passionate…and most of all Bashir’s puchkas. Its Diwali! The festival of lights. I am vehemently against this entire concept of Diwali. I fondly christened myself as a Diwali Scrooge! Its always disagreed with me, and now, after having worked with underprivileged children, I have a reason to hate it even more.

I saw the first rocket light up a little of the sky, and I began complaining to Meena about the pollution, noise, food wastage, show off, social pressures etc. She listened to me and then quietly asserted, ” mujhe toh diwali bahut pasand hai” She said she loves Diwali. I was taken aback. In all the years I had known her, Meena never expressed an opinion. Actually, she hardly spoke. But she was a good listener. So I was half glad, one fourth taken aback and the last one fourth of me was bewildered. I let her continue.

“Yeh Patake, ye patako ki awaaz, dil mein dhadkan hai, yaad dilate hai. Mujhe diwali bahut pasand hai, naye kapde, mithaiya, achcha khana, diwali mein log hamesha hans ke bolte hai, sirf apno se nahi, ajnabee se bhi…jaise har insaan se hamara koi rishta ho…yeh diwali ke diye, anjaan sheher mein ghar ki yaad dilate hai mujhe…Didi, meri nazar se dekho zara, tumhe bhi Diwali bahut pasand aayegi. Is diwali mere saath CG Road ghumne chalna…paidal challenge didi…theek hai…abhi jaa rahi hun…diwali ke din ghar aaongi…saath deep jalaenge.”

She seemed to be talking to herself. I thought about what she had said, “these crackers, the sound of these crackers bring forth the realization that my heart beats. I really like Diwali, new clothes, sweetmeats, delicious food, people always smile and talk, not only to their kin, but also to strangers…its seems as if we have a bond with every human being…these Diwali lamps make me feel at home in a city so far away from home… didi, look at it through my eyes, you will also begin to appreciate Diwali. This Diwali, come for a stroll with me to CG Road (the main shopping place in Ahmedabad, a prime location, a la- MG Road kinds), ok? I am leaving now…I will come home on Diwali day…we shall light the lamps together.”

I was shaken. I was moved. Till today, I had only thought of all the things that children on the streets miss during Diwali; it was the first time, that a child on the street had made me see Diwali through her eyes.

Meena is a 15-yr old girl who I met at my sister’s place when she was about 10; she was accompanying the 17-yr old Madhuri (her older sister) who worked as a maid in my cousin’s house. They are orphans and live in a shanty near my cousin’s house. Meena used to be an unkempt child, and I used to often bring her home when no one was around and give her a bath. We fostered a quiet relationship, that is, until this evening.

As I rode my bike home, I tried to imagine a Diwali for Meena. And I realized that it was the time to be benevolent, so the homes where she and her sister worked as maids, gave them sweets, new clothes, some extra money, sometimes inviting them to watch the ” atarshbaazi”, the spectacle of the many-splendored fire crackers…the maids were important to Diwali, in their own little way!

Indeed, the evening was perfect. The fading light of the sun, and lighting up of Meena’s eyes as she spoke of Diwali, I can no longer be proud to be a Diwali Scrooge. For as I looked at Diwali through Meena’s eyes, I repeated, in my mind, her parting words, ” Kaash roz log Diwali manate.” Really, I do wish, people celebrated Diwali all year through. I know I will!

October 20th 2006…Henri

For Meena…and the Diwali that she brought into my life!

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