I was six, I think. It was Deepavali. Preparations for ushering in Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity, involved my favourite part. Collecting diyas (terracotta lamps), immersing them in water so that they didn’t soak more oil than they burnt. Sunning them. Putting cotton wicks, oil. Placing them on a thali (a large platter with sides turned up) and waiting for sunset for Ma to offer Puja (prayers). And light the diyas.
But there was a part that I didn’t look forward to at all. I was frightened of firecrackers. Even sparklers, if you can believe that. But believe it or not, it is true. Thankfully, there were other attractions. Like diyas. The new clothes. The first nip in the air. Yummy food. Colours. Light. Reminders of love and joy.
Coming back to firecrackers, I had secretly hoped my parents and brother didn’t invite me to try my hand at it. To distract myself from sheer desperation to fly to Mars, I shuttled between the kitchen and the rooftop. The kitchen was the source of powerful smells of love. Puri, Kheer, Pulao, Aaloo ki Sabzi, Bara… Thankfully, Ma concentrated on a scrumptious dinner rather than on deep-fried snacks (except Puri) that would lose their charm the next day. The hot meal after the Puja was something else.
And the rooftop had diyas. The small bits of light that lit up not only our home, but also warmed our hearts with unequalled joy.
So, diyas had dried, were ready to be lit, Puja was done, Bhog (food offered to God. It is believed that such a food has been tasted by God, and is hence sacred) was ready. Was it time for dinner? No. How about a little hand at firecrackers, then? And I could’ve flown (to Mars, yeah). The sound of exploding bombs, the teeny bits of fire falling on my hand left me no choice, you see. But my dear, insistent mother, took my hand, walked me out, asked my father for a sparkler. And gently told me to hold it. “I am with you. I am holding it too.” I held the sparkler, shrieked with fright at the angry bits of fire on my childish skin. She held on, and I did too. They have a picture of me, screaming in fright. But my mother, her sweet smile, gently holding on to the sparkler with me. We , or rather I, got through the first one. The next picture in our family album shows me smiling with another (burning, sparkling) in my hand. Joy on my face.
Why this particular Deepavali? I’ve lived and experienced 36 of them. This one is special for another reason.
That was the only Deepavali Pa bought an Akashdeep, The light in the sky. A lantern, to give a more inadequate translation. It consumed my childish curiosity. It was shaped just the way the above akashdeep is. And it burnt away all my fears. Brought more colour than I could manage. For some strange reason, all of our subsequent celebrations were without any. Pa never bought them, we never asked about them. (Busy with diyas and firecrackers and food, perhaps).
This Deepavali, yesterday, I saw a small boy selling these. And got reminded of how all my other Deepavali’s have slipped by, without this light from the sky making it more special. I bought two. And put them up at our two doors.
And called up Pa to tell him how I neglected to ask for it all these years. How that one stayed with me all these years. And how this one after such a long, long time is my light in the sky.
The six year old has grown up. And has her akashdeep. And is no longer frightened of firecrackers.