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The festival of lights.

Walking down the crowded streets of downtown Minneapolis fighting his way among the throng of shoppers didn't do anything to improve Prateek's mood. Christmas was almost a month away, they weren’t yet done with Thanks Giving, but some shops had already started their Christmas campaign. Prateek thought of Laxmi road back home overflowing with Diwali shoppers. Pushing his gloved fists deep in his coat pockets he walked on, blind to the people around him.

A star hanging outside a small shop reminded him of a similar lantern he had once made and suddenly he wanted to be back in Pune.
He could picture his little sister looking grown up decked up in a saree, Mother looking a little tired, she must have stayed up the whole night preparing sweets, dad dressed in dhoti and kurta, impatiently waiting for every one to get ready for the traditional breakfast.
The oil lamps would be lit in every window, and lanterns hung up high. There would be the aroma of food and fire crackers in the air ..... The part he loved most was when early in the morning his mother massaged his head with aromatic oil before his bath. Sitting sleepily in front of her getting his head gently massaged made him feel like a baby again. An acute pang of loneliness shot thru his heart, leaving behind a dull ache which he couldn’t reason away. And there were always reasons. It was a new job, no leave for another eight months, a position of responsibility, in the current job scenario he should be grateful to have bagged such a good job, so on and so forth. Tears welled in his eyes as he walked on, isolated in his misery. 
Peeking down the hallway, he was thankful to see Brenda’s door shut. Every day she and her sister Marge held court on the landing of her ground floor apartment, talking with every person coming in or going out, asking questions, and passing the time of the day. Every day he snuck in and out of his own place to avoid this rather large and friendly yet intimidating woman who was his landlady.
Everything about Brenda alarmed him. Her tall and large figure, her booming voice, her penchant for wearing colourful wigs, he just wasn’t used to women like her. She used to say cheerfully “we make things big in Texas”( Brenda said ' Thangs ') and laugh till her hundred and eighty kg frame shook like Jell-O and tears rolled down her eyes. She had once asked him if he had a girl friend and when he had stammered a ‘No’ had suggested gravely that her sister Marge was available. He heard the guffaw of their laughter as he escaped to his own apartment. The last person he wanted to face right now was Brenda or Marge in their multi coloured wigs.
The place he called home was a bare apartment with no furniture of any kind. The floor was carpeted and windows were draped. A sleeping bag and his travel bags were stored neatly in the bedroom, his clothes were in the closet, books arranged in neat piles in a corner. His pride and joy were his new lap top and the music system and were suitably installed atop a card board box. He had draped them with a couple of colourful scarves in an attempt to jazz up the place. He had also tied a scary around the lamp in the corner. He could write a book on minimalism, he thought wryly as he looked around.
The phone call home was harder than he had thought. Mom still hadn’t gotten over the fact that he hadn’t managed to get leave for Diwali. Cutting short her litany of ‘Just for a few days’ dad finally took over and asked about his new job, the place where he stayed, advised him to concentrate on his work. Maybe next year… after all, there would be other Diwalis, the air fare is so expensive, not to spend money unnecessarily. It all was so- so familiar. He could understand their disappointment and shared it. It really would have been wonderful to have gone home for Diwali.
He felt lonelier than before as he hung up, their voices still buzzed in his ears. He wondered what he should do tonight. Maybe call a few friends? Go for a movie? He didn’t want to be alone. For the first time in life he regretted his inability to make friends easily.
Someone tapped on the door. Brenda was outside with a small parcel.
“ Hello Pra-teek, This came for you in the afternoon” she pronounced his name slowly and accurately. “ Is it your Birthday? This looks like a present”
“ No ma’am, I mean-Brenda. Just some sweets from a friend for Diwali. Thank you very much”. He still hadn’t gotten used to the American way of calling every one by their first names, especially some one like Brenda, who must be at least sixty. He tried to close the door but Brenda wasn’t done yet.
“ Oh Diwali! I have heard of that. It’s a festival of lights, right? Where are Your lights? “ she asked as she peered around in the room.
“ Ummm- haven’t lit any here. Family will be celebrating back in India.” he mumbled. Brenda looked closely at him and went on briskly,
“ No no no no !!!! You must celebrate where ever you are! Celebrations are fun! Tell you what. You light the candles, I will go get some food which is just sitting in my fridge, and then we will have our own celebration. Maybe we can invite my sister Marge.”
Prateek felt like he was being bulldozed, but there was nothing he could do. Last thing he wanted was to have Brenda and Marge sitting in his apartment, talking in their loud cheerful voices. But he couldn’t even pretend to have a prior appointment. Brenda hurried away, and he looked around the room wondering where to start.
The candles were lit and the strains of sitar filled the apartment. He arranged the Mithai he had received in a plate with a few potato chips he found in the cabinet. He was actually humming as he got the chilled coke from the fridge. He quickly changed into Chudidar Kurta and went to open the door eagerly to welcome his guests.
Brenda had returned with a large food hamper. Marge ambled in behind her. Brenda was dressed in some kind of a red and green brocade kimono which looked more like a bathrobe and Marge had worn a long purple garment which looked like a silk tent. They both had tied silk scarves on their heads turban style in honor of the occasion. With large red bindis on their foreheads drawn with lipstick, and kohl in their eyes they looked very exotic.
Marge ceremoniously handed him a couple of boxes and a bottle of wine and said,
“ Here, some chocolates for you, and how do I greet you ? Happy Dee-waa-lee or Merry Dee-waa-lee? I found this little Chinese lantern in my closet. How about hanging it up? Isn’t this a festival of lights? I have never celebrated Dee-waa-lee before. Let’s set the food on the plates, pour ourselves some wine, and then, Pra-teek, I would like you to tell me all about Dee-waa-lee”.


Banno said…
found this story very moving. could remember laxmi road myself, the crowds, and lights during diwali time.
wooster said…
can say, have had the misfortune of living such a story...

wondering why i didnt stop by your blog earlier. also wondering why there arent any updates in a while...

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