I just stepped out of my home. Everything looked dim as if I was wearing dark spectacles. The sky appeared in dark-blue. It was 5’o clock in the morning. Some contours in red announced that the sun was rising. I happen to see these beautiful dawns once or at-the-max twice in a year. It was a Diwali day and that’s why I had got up so early.
My neighbors had started the celebrations already. It was very colorful. Every adult and child glowed with happiness and looked bright in new garments. Their faces wore a special kind of smile that is unique to the mood of celebration. The children, not necessary to say, were thrilled firing up the crackers. The fire sparkles, smoke, early morning light and the mist of winter, all together produced a unique atmosphere.
As I was entering my home (going in doors), I noticed that the right side of our house was still calm. There were no sign of any celebration. It was a slum.
I was an adolescent then. Naturally, my interest in crackers was deteriorating. Neither was I interested in following the ethics of celebration, like taking an oil bath early in the morning, praying to God and bowing to elders to get their blessings. These practices were meaningless to me.
A boy appeared in the door when I was watching television after having breakfast. “Anna Pattasu, ”* the boy from the slum called me. He was not begging! In fact I was a vendor, a cot-vendor. Cot-Vendor? Yes, I spread crackers on a cot and place it in front of my house and sell crackers in retail. In this context “retail” has a different meaning. We used to sell crackers as individual pieces. You can see many such cot-vendors during Diwali season in small towns and in villages. He bought 10 bijilis for 2 rupees. I wondered if one would buy such a small amount on Diwali day. Was that enough for his celebration?
I was new to this small business. The children start firing the crackers few weeks before the actual date. My goal was to sell crackers on that pre-Diwali celebration days, not for the big day. I could not imagine that someone would buy crackers from my small shop ( shop?) for his Diwali celebration.
As the day was passing many boys came and bought crackers for small amounts. They usually come as a mob but only one of them would buy. In the evening a couple arrived. They might be newly married. The ecstasy in their faces showed that it was their “Thalai Deepavali.”** They bought 3 pieces of flower-pots, 2 pieces of ground-wheels and 8 pieces of sparkles. I was extremely shocked.
Suddenly I thought about my childhood days. I was very much interested in crackers. Our family was a lower middle class family. After finishing up our crackers we would move to our rich neighbor’s home and would watch. We would see a variety of crackers. They always had plenty. Sometimes the elders would call us and ask us to participate in the celebration. I don’t know even now, whether they did so in sympathy or by generosity or for courtesy. The situations become further worse during my transition to adolescent from child. My dad took many loans and we became poorer. We could not buy new clothes or crackers for Diwali.
My past experience made me perfectly understand the situation of the children from the slum. Every time a boy bought some crackers others would just watch him with curiosity & envy, mixed equally. Even such small amounts were uneconomical for those boys. And their parents could not hide the shame that they had, because of their inability to satisfy the desires of their children.
As I thought seriously I developed a philosophy. I told my self “Festivals are great disasters to the poor. It makes them envy others. It violently hits them by teasing them of their buying capabilities. It makes them to loose their confidence and makes them to feel inferior to others.”
Thereafter, ‘FESTIVAL’ means good grief to me.
* “Anna, Pattasu!” -> “Brother, Crackers!”
** Thalai Deepavali -> The first Diwali festival for a married a couple.