A DIWALI MORNING

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Sharp 7AM.

My hard earned dream crumbled.

A whole film of imagined life stopped playing with that cracker blast announcing Diwali.

Lights came on in the theatre. I stirred in the seat I had snugly settled into, rubbed my eyes and gazed back at the projection room. Despite my best attempts, those shafts of light failed to return. Damn! What had I been doing? Was I singing to the heroine? Was I lone ranger on wild landscape? Was I delivering an inspiring speech? Hell, there was neither memory of where I had been nor depth of sleep remaining to transport self to oyster of imagination. It was all truly shattered.

A second blast went off.

I was now one hundred per cent awake.

I stay on the ground floor. The faint smell of burning chemical – that unmistakable smell of Diwali – drifted in. “ Happy Diwali,’’ I mumbled to myself and pressed my face into the pillow hoping that the harder I pressed my face into the foam, it would become a bomb-proof, puffy barrier shielding me from the nuisance outside the window. A third cracker went off, this one with a hiss and a fizz, a bang gone dud. “ Bet that was a quality certified manufacturer,’’ I muttered, recalling the emergent claim in cracker advertisements.

The kid wasn’t discouraged.

I heard the sound of feet shuffling outside. His movements paused as he focused on lighting the next cracker, lovingly packaged a thousand kilometres away and dispatched here to blow up my sleep. Was he writing: ` to uncle with love’ on it before going bang? Then I heard him sprint to safety. I looked at the ceiling: would it be bang gone dud or BANG? The question mark felt like that infamous scene of Russian roulette from `The Deer Hunter.’ With Indian quality standards, claimed certification to boot, you could never be sure how the next blast would be. I held my breath; counted the seconds. Then I hit the pillow. BOOM! This one shook me. I was now sitting on the bed, my hair on end like Dr Emmet Brown from `Back to The Future.’  I could visualize a piece of burnt paper scribbled ` to uncle with love,’ drifting down from the ceiling in Diwali-smelling room.

I don’t burst crackers.

From the balcony, I briefly watched the proceedings. The kid had been joined by his friends. Against a background score of blasts laced by shouts of appreciation to bangs delivered as such, I made some coffee. What to do? I turned on the computer. In the time taken for it to boot, I recalled a conversation overheard at Chembur station, the previous night. A Malayali man was explaining the scale of Diwali in these parts of India, to somebody back home. “ It is trifle dull this year. I guess common people don’t have money to splurge. Crackers are expensive. But everyone will be active tomorrow and day after, that’s for sure,’’ he said.

In India, a cracker is a frame of mind, like spicy food made hotter with chillies and more chillies. Reason escapes it. Over the past couple of days, Dalal Street, where the city’s stock brokers went, had been doing the same thing. The economy had done badly; politics was lousy, jobs were hard to come by, there was inflation on the streets, elections were due and if they cared – freelance journalist was on his last legs. Yet, Jeejeebhoy Towers, home to Mumbai’s stock exchange, boomed. What was it celebrating? I have no idea. Maybe I should interview the kid. I suspect his reasoning and the market’s would be the same.

The computer booted.

I logged in.

There was nothing on the mail; nobody saying hello. Diwali felt like bang gone dud. Or maybe, they were all busy celebrating and would get down to remembering world, later. Guess you got to be a kid bursting crackers or a trader on Dalal Street to feel BANG! BANG! on Diwali.

From a corner of the mind, `Kill Bill’ and Nancy Sinatra crept in.

Bang bang, he shot me down

Bang bang, I hit the ground

Bang bang, that awful sound

Bang, bang, my baby shot me down

I tuned into an Internet radio station. What should I listen to? Upstairs stayed silent, indifferent. Old faithful, I decided, and clicked on `blues,’ then, `blues rock.’ Lazer Lloyd sang “ why Mr Politician, why do you lie to me?’’  It seemed pretty apt for country sailing into elections. In my suburb, overlooking clusters of shops selling crackers were posters of local politicians supporting Diwali celebrations. They smiled like benevolent patriarchs. Or, gazed unsmilingly like visionaries deciding my tomorrow, certainly their profitable tomorrow. On the radio, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Moore and Otis Taylor took stage. Then, Etta James belted out, “ the blues is my business and business is good.’’

I started typing this article.

The coffee soothed. The sentences formed. The blues struck a chord.

Suddenly, life seemed good.

Thank you kid for the wake up blast, I thought.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai)

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