It is a complete night, one so utterly dark as if it was handcrafted for an occasion like today’s. Soon as the clock strikes 12, the night changes faces. Colors splash across the black canvas of the sky in tiny spurts of fire, like flowers rising to full bloom and withering away just as rapidly. It is Diwali and just like every year, my house is crammed with relatives and the year-round gossip that they bring along.
The tiny ones are busy playing on the phones that they managed to steal while their parents were busy exchanging pleasantries. The ‘moms’ have put their new sarees on full display and the ‘dads’ have settled themselves in front of the TV to watch cricket.
All day I have been engaged in polite nodding and substituting words with smiles, tricks that I’ve mastered over the years. All my cousins are too young, making me the only member of the ‘shy adolescent boy’ club. It is not awful in any sense, but it gets to me sometimes. Especially when I need to fake compliments to seem like the perfectly mannered boy that I am not. But every time a defiant thought enters my mind, mom’s eyes grow threateningly big, enough to put me in my place. And the impact of the eyes has only grown since last night when I told her that the laddoos she made were sickeningly sweet and inedible.
So now I am here, sitting in my balcony on this windless night, with my hands holding my folded legs together, under a rather fancy lantern. I guess I have what some may call, Diwali Blues. I peek down at the unnaturally empty street to see a boy sitting just like me, on the opposite footpath, staring fixedly at the lantern in my balcony. It would be easy to mistake him for a shadow in this sparsely lit lane. And yet he exists, as more than just an illusion of the night, focusing all his energy onto the lantern above my head. From what I can see, he is wearing rags and he looks vaguely familiar. It takes me a few minutes to realize that he works at a nearby grocery store. I have seen him a few times running errands for my neighbors. Usually, he seems very bright and chirpy but tonight seeing him engulfed in gloom makes me question if all of that, is only a show he puts up.
I wonder what Diwali means to him. Extra hours at work, a bonus maybe and some little-unexpected gifts. I do not venture to think about his family, I feel sad enough already. The festival of lights that so well manages to spark up the entire city, doesn’t seem to brighten any part of his dull world. It is like he lives in the realm of shadows. My daily small struggles feel insignificant in comparison to what he has to endure every day. My thoughts break as the lantern sways. It is a windless night and yet the lantern swings like a cradle being gently pushed. My eyes travel back to the boy whose eyes are now shut. I shiver as the night grows cold. I get up and walk into my kitchen. Grabbing a few over-sweet laddoos I sneak out of my house.
The boy opens his eyes as I sit beside him. When I offer the laddoos to him, he wolfs them down hungrily. I know I must go back home but I don’t feel like it. So instead, I sit there beside him, staring at the lantern in my balcony. At some point, our bubbles of Diwali-blues collide and pop, as I realize he is smiling, even without looking at him. My lips too curve into a smile as a fantastic red firecracker burst above us, drenching us in the happiness of the moment. We fill our hearts with the fuzzy feeling and smile wide at the night, bidding adieu to the most beautiful Diwali of our lives.