Lights, sounds and nostalgia

And so I was standing in the rain, waiting for the bus and suddenly a sentence popped into my head. ‘Deepon ki avli hai deepavli’. That translates to Diwali is a festival that is array of lit lamps. More or less, give or take.

I think I had that lesson about the festival in the Hindi class when I was in the 6th grade. Deepon ki avli indeed. The festival of lights has always been a special one. To me, it had always symbolized things new, fun and exciting. For as long as I can remember, my mum has always slogged herself in the kitchen to dish out a feast of sorts. At one point, it was an extended family that enjoyed the meal. As years wore on, the participants were reduced to just the three of us. Mum, dad and yours truly.

That didn’t hamper or dampen my mum’s spirit. She goes all in every year. This year, its a meal for two and still all in. I had a good laugh teasing my mom about it. ‘So, are you going to shower today?’ , my mom asked her usual Diwali question. Some things never do change.

I am reminded of the time I was in my 5th grade. The usual practice was to wear them new clothes to school when they reopened after the holidays. That one year, the occasion was special enough. I had taken the liberties of extending the practice to another day , besides the designated fancy wear day. My reason was a simple enough. I had brought two! It was fun to be the only bloke in school who was not in his usual uniform. People were shook, some of the kids were jealous, most of my teachers were amused and I was a happy proud kid, dressed in a Red Tshirt that had a picture of a fancy skull on it. Red used to be my favourite color back then.

Then came the phase of ‘I’m too cool to burst crackers’. I believed , half heartedly , in the cause against child labour. The promotions promoted, the propaganda propagated, I did manage to coast through the day avoiding them crackers. Temptation sunk in by the evening. A box of rockets later, I did smile a satisfied guiltless smile. It was the last time I had bothered with the crackers. I had grown old.

Before I could realize that I was the responsible adult around the block, my folks appointed me the safety warden. My nephew was a kid back then, so was my niece. They wanted to have their fun with fire and explosives. The kid got creative and I started to worry. I remember lugging a bucket of water and bracing my heart over his adventure spells. The games had transcended time. Tying up crackers of different kind were still in fashion. Blowing coconut shells were still cool. Igniting crackers and throwing them for an Air time explosion was still awesome. As a responsible adult, yeah, it was way too much trouble to maintain the façade of being responsible. I rolled my sleeves and joined in on their fun. It felt great to be a kid again.

The kids grew up and they had their fifteen minutes of fame riding the ‘Crackers is child labour’ phase. My nephew refused to indulge in the practice. My niece was still enthusiastic. Fortunately, I made the nephew the safety warden and enjoyed ten more minutes of happy sleep. That happiness didn’t last long. Brothers and sisters are meant to fight and fight they did. My mom rushed in the damage control. I was the damage control. This time around, I was the ‘uncle’ to the kids in the apartment. Little ones surrounded me and looked up to me to inspire them into excitement and adventure.

There were the first timers, the scaredy cats who wanted to get in on the fun, but were apprehensive about how explosives worked. Their hands would tremble, the incense stick would fly all directions and manage to miss igniting the wick. They had to be directed. They had to be motivated. The first thrill of setting something on fire, the first thrill of escaping death, the first thrill of an action fuelled adventure, once they acquired the taste for it, there was no stopping them.

I remember that evening. My nephew and I decided to watch the night works from the terrace. We both decided to throw away our phones and enjoy the lights and sounds. It felt wonderful to enjoy the moment. It was the first time , in many years, where I had managed to place my mind and my thoughts on hold. I was free to enjoy the moment. The thinking would resume later. It was also the last time I enjoyed such an evening. Time and tide, you know the drill. They don’t bother waiting.

Then came the thrills of sneaking in a call to a loved one without the parents raising any alarms. The simpler joys of wishing at the stroke of mid night. The dumb satisfaction of exchanging pictures of celebrations across the households. The happiness of secrecy and jubilation of romance. Festivals were a fun time to enjoy life. It did give an excuse to stay a little more connected than usual. It did give an excuse to view the normal as something special. It did give an opportunity to view a larger than life version of the mundane.

Through the years, my folks haven’t changed. Dad still heads out early morning to burst the quintessential usi- vedi (needle cracker!!!) . He steps out before most people wake up. He gets back before most people wake up. He then helps mom with her production line of dolling out dishes. My mom would then nudge him to start the process of waking me up. 5 am, 6 am, 7 am, 8, am, 9 am.. and then my mom would adopt a different strategy. She’d remind me that there would come a day when I’d not be with them and the guilt trip was ample enough to get my day started. The irony is, I woke up at 6 today, without reminders, without much drama and too bad, I woke up to an empty room, to a land that has to wait till the 5th of November for the fireworks.

A festival becomes more than a festival. It’s not about throwing money and acquiring things. It’s not about flaunting with flashy clothes and distributing expensive and exotic sweets. It’s not about putting on a show. It’s the simpler things. It’s about spending a little time with the family. It’s about enjoying a meal together, to talk about useless things of daily life. It’s about sharing a few smiles.

Enjoy a little, much needed, family time. May the festival of lights brighten up your smiles. Be responsible, be a safety warden 😛

Karthik

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A story of tales.

Dear Diary

I guess , after these many decades, I finally do understand the subtle difference that’s love. Live long enough with an open mind, I bet one stands to grow wise.

The many years we spent waiting, the payoff had finally come. It wasn’t much of a payoff as it was the satisfaction of seeing our kid again. I belong to the old world where a man doesn’t emote. I’m used to the code of a stiff upper lip. I appeared normal. I felt elated within. My excitement was contained and it took a tremendous effort to keep the blazing fireworks under wraps.

She was as much of the old world as I was. Her happiness was on a constant display. Life had found her again. It breathed energy into her old bones. Her movements quickened, her pace picked speed, she was no longer an old grand ma of sixty. She appeared to be thirty again. She managed to make a list of things to buy, things to cook, places to visit, people to meet. As the day approached, her spirited frenzy enthusiastically escalated. Mother’s pride , that’s exactly what it was. It was on abundant display.

‘So tell me again.. when is his flight? What time will he be out? When do we finally get to see him?’ she’d ask me from time to time. She knew the details by heart by now. The information didn’t matter to her anymore. It was the sheer joy of hearing the news that brought a smile to her face. The weeks leading up to the day, I guess I’d have answered her sequence of questions, which never changed their order, a few hundred times. I played along. It was nice to see her happy and alive again. It felt good. I didn’t mind the questions.

Now that I take a moment to reflect, I think I’ve had a reasonably decent middle class life. Born into a family of four, I had the luxury of pursuing my education. I didn’t have to worry about shouldering responsibilities. I found myself a job and there was nothing special about it. I was happy staying employed. The time had come for me to take the next step. Ironically enough, it was a step that was taken on my behalf. That’s what it was. I didn’t complain. I didn’t know if there was an option to even complain. It was just the way things were. It wasn’t a bad marriage. She was a quiet girl. She has always been quiet.

There were times when her enthusiasm for life trumped the moment. Her childlike conviction to a cause was a sight to cherish and behold. I did my best to bring that side of her out as much as I could. Her moments of sublime bliss was a challenge worth spending a lifetime to work towards. Unlike the new brave world that expresses itself out on every given minute, ours was a world with few words and fewer expressions. We worked on a simple routine of care and questions. With money tight, surprises were few and scattered away. It’s been a life no different than the usual norm.

In time, we soon had a common dream. An American dream to be precise. We skimmed through our needs, we skipped on pointless comforting luxuries, we saved ample enough for that ticket. Our son did the rest. He studied when he had to. Poor kid, he barely complained. He had inherited his mother’s smile. when the time came, we bid our goodbyes in the airport amidst hugs and tears.

With our dreams now vacant, going back to the life we had felt different. The boulders of responsibilities had waned thin. We were again thrust into a world that was constituted by only the two of us. We found a routine. She took it upon herself to feed stray dogs, tend to birds that nested around our house. She had things to do. I enjoyed watching her go about her life. It was almost like the old days. I was happy watching her childlike conviction to her causes.

We had not seen our child in two decades now. He was no longer the little kid that we sent away to the land of dreams. Work, life, promises to keep and commitments to meet, the time had flowed forward without much dissent. She cried when our kid announced his marriage. She didn’t mind the merger of cultures, she missed being there , watching them make a new start. She cried when our grand daughter made it to this world. It wasn’t the birth of a girl child that bothered her, she missed being there, watching the new one. In time, her tears had dried up. She didn’t cry any more. The kindness and care that were within here were reciprocated by the society that surrounded us. We weren’t the grumpy old couple. Kids enjoyed our hospitality. animals found shelter in our old aged home.

The call brought a change in us.

All of this was new. All of this was exciting. The day had arrived. A son met his mother. A mother met her son. A hug that took decades in the making. All the love in the world that had the power in them to stop time.

Well, that’s the story if you asked my wife.

My son started off the usual way. He couldn’t understand the economic divide that kept me from being a provider that he wanted me to be. I tried. I had failed. My son vowed to change his fate. He’d never allow his kids to undergo the same fate. The ferocity in his determination was a testament to a man who had made up his mind to change his destiny. The last of the hurdle were the tickets to his land of dreams.

He had distanced himself from his former world. He wanted nothing to do with it. He was now a part of a new world. A world that he fought hard to keep away from the one he had left behind. He had orchestrated his own life. I was happy, as long as he was happy. I didn’t have a say in what transpired. I didn’t want to have one either.

The day had come, he had arrived. Just him. He saw his old frail parents. As he hugged his mother, he shot his glance towards me.

‘Appa, hope you’ve considered my offer to sell that house and move to a care home.’

One story. Two tales. I finally understand the difference between a mother and a father today.

Cool.

Karthik

Inspired by watching this old couple stand an hour in the tube station. I hope they had a better story of life.

Concentrated and yet diluted

Ah the good old days. I usually restrict the past to the previous decade. It’s been a fun decade. The move from being a kid to a responsible adult (Ahem!!! that’s a little contentious at best) , the bifurcation of life into personal and professional, the tryst with music ; instant love, instant karma, divorce and reunion and the whole nine yards around it, the journey into words. I think it’s fair enough to say that the decade has been quite a jolly ride.

This blog ain’t about that. This one takes me back to the simpler times. With the Independence day, also comes the months of bailing out on classes under the pretext of drama practice, the marching thingy, events and eventualities surrounding the big gig. Life was fun. It was a point in time when I soared through life without many thoughts. I think it was during the time when I didn’t get to think much. I kept things at a bare minimum, thinking that is.

Back to school. The months leading up to the big day were always fun. There were planners. Bless their soul, the natural leaders, they’d always have a plan. They knew exactly what was needed. They’d meticulously jot the events out, time them, arrange for the logistics. There were the dancers. The gang that danced. They’d be locked away into rooms, popular trance and dance numbers would blare through the handy portable 2-in-1’s. ‘Firestarter’, ‘MI-theme’, a bit of Enigma, and a lot of songs that I didn’t even know who composed. The dancers were a tribe of their own. Far away from the brotherhood of the studious ones, they had realized their purpose of existence. They’d dance. That’s all they cared for. Theirs , was a life of pursuit of putting up a good show, getting a recognition. They seemed to be lost in their own world.

Then there were the singers. Oh, I envied the entire lot. I could sing, yup I could. I never made the cut. I was never the soloist that I always yearned. Truth be told, I was a small fry. Good enough to win when the serious singers wouldn’t bother participating. I didn’t stand a chance , back in the day. The disappointment did fuel my passion for the stage. I’d take the mic. Hell I would. I’d not sing though. I’d speak. And Spoke I did. I found the laurels that had evaded me in my quest for being a singer. Vengeance and retribution were served cold, that one eventful fete where the music team had categorically failed and I returned home with cups and a rolling shield. It feels petty now. But, yeah I had my moment of glory.

Damn, got side tracked. So, the singers would huddle. They’d quickly distribute the songs amongst themselves. The usual girl would sing the devotional song. If I remember her right, predictable and to a teen back in the day, that was uncool. Decked in conservative garb, flowers that adorned her hair, she was the girl that represented holy purity. Nobody hit on her, nobody would flirt with her, In fact, I’d refrain from trying to pull her leg. She was always revered as something precious 🙂

Then came the ARR wannabe singers. The popular numbers would be picked. Folks would practice. I was there. Waiting to swoop in and make fun. I enjoyed being an outsider to the gang. I wasn’t a misfit to music. I’d pick up drums, I’d pick tambourine. I was the unskilled labour of that group. It was always exciting to be around the music folks.

Then came my forte. The ask was always to present a sensible Drama(play). I was the chosen one. The responsibilities of the dialogue would land on my shoulders. It was good fun. The spirit of collaboration soared high. I remember the first few weeks of the preparation. I’d have a vague idea of an idea that I thought was funny. We’d talk about it, try to breathe characters to it. It was always an organic discussion. It bloody well was an excuse to invite the girl that I had a crush on, to act out a part. The hush hush giggles, being rampantly teased, trying a lame means to explain the laughs to the otherwise clueless one(oh everybody knew), it was all good fun. The icing on the cake was the fact that the teachers would have a face-palm moment when they finally witnessed the play. Yeah, I’ve always been sneaky and deceptive.

That’s the fondest memory I have of the Independence day. As time wore on, I found myself moving away from feeling the zeal and frenzy to the day. The craziness nipped, the day was now a welcome holiday, meant to be sat at home glued to the silly idiot box. My mom would make a sweet, she’d always tell me about my paternal grandma, who through near poverty, would still manage to make sweets to celebrate the day. The story had grown numb to me. I couldn’t bring myself to associate personally to my granma’s ordeal.

And in due time, the cycle had come full circle. I found myself swaying away from being cool, uncool, to pragmatic. I do love my nation. I respect the effort and sacrifice and blood that’s gone into building our nation to what it is today. I recognize that we , as a nation, have a way to go. I also acknowledge that we, as a nation, should be happy ;satisfied; and for lack of better word, proud of what we’ve achieved so far. All of that’s there.

And so today, as I reflect on what the day means to me, I did make it a point to buy a jar of gulab jamun. I do intend to share the sweet joy of us being an Independent nation, a young adolescent who can achieve all the greatness if she puts her mind to it. On that note, Happy Independence day. It means different things to a lot of us. None of that disparity matters. Smiles all the way.

Karthik