t Day 89. Diwali. Lights. Joy. Lamps. Celebration. Candles. Crackers. Fireworks. Smiles (and some smoke). My early memories of Diwali are of going shopping for crackers with my father. He mostly bought me noiseless ones… charki, tubri, sparklers… and I would, at times, be envious of my cousin who boasted of bursting “chocolate bombs”. At five, that was a big feat though now I wonder if he really burst them or just watched (rather heard) them. And then rockets came into our lives every Diwali. My Mamoni (aunt, Kakima) was an expert at lighting them and I would watch in awe as she tucked in her anchal at her waist, placed the bottle on the road and the rocket inside it, lit the tip snd stepped backwards. Diwali celebrations took on a grand scale with our move to Hyderabad. We stayed in an apartment block where Diwali was a great community affair. It all began with a ring of the doorbell. Early in the evening, a man from the building society would ring the bell at each flat and request everyone to park their cars in a cordoned-off area in one part of the compound. The rest of the area was for bursting crackers. As evening fell, and the lights strung around the building came on, lamps and candles would start flickering in every balcony. Tiny flames that held a million smiles, joys and hopes. Slowly, everyone would start trickling downstairs, with bagloads of crackers of every kind. Excited kids. Watchful elders. Everyone would burst their own crackers and then stop for a few moments to appreciate the amazing flowerpots lit by a neighbour or that rocket that soared into the sky. The grand (if noisy) finale would be a giant string of kalipotka laid carefully all around the building. Once lit at one end, it would continue to burst for the next couple of hours. Upstairs, back home, we would bring out my grandmother’s favourite — the shaapbaji. Hajmola-like tablets which when lit gave way to a snake-like form. One such Diwali remains captured for eternity in my father’s frames. Me, my mother, my grandmother, my friends and Vijididi Vijayshri Raman posing with sparklers in front of candles. The photographs are a bit hazy from the smoke all around but the memories are bright and clear. On our first Diwali after moving into our new flat in Calcutta, my aunt who stayed nearby called Ma and me over. We burst some crackers and had dinner together, only to return the next morning to find a hole in our bedroom window through which an uron tubri had made its way into the room. A para youth had climbed up and taken it out, we were told. It was the second Diwali with a minor accident. The year before that my little sister had grabbed a sparkler as everyone rushed to put egg whites on her tiny hands to soothe the pain. That was the last time we left our flat empty on Diwali. A few lonely and quiet Diwalis later, a family moved into the opposite flat and for the next several years, Diwali was once again a happy occasion. We celebrated every festival and every little joy together. Diwali also means a surprise gift of tubris handmade by Achintya a year before our wedding. Diwali is a box of sweets or dry fruits we would get as gifts at work every year. Diwali is buying a box of mithai (laddoo or kaju barfi) for everyone at home. Diwali means lighting candles on my bedroom window after returning home from work late at night. Diwali means my beautiful Matu lighting up the TV screen in Do diyen zyada jalao. Aaj humne do diye zyada jalay…khushi ke naam. Happy Diwali everyone. Light up your lives with the brightest of smiles.
PS: The sari is a gift from one of my youngest sisters-in-law Pritha whom we all love to tease and bully right from the day when we dressed her up for her wedding reception but love as much. Happy Diwali Pritha.

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