சித்திரப் பூ போலே சிதறும் மத்தாப்பு
தீயேதும் இல்லாமல் வெடித்திடும் கேப்பு
The biggest contribution of WhatsApp, perhaps, is posting all nostalgic stuff at an alarming pace. This feverish posting reaches a crescendo during Diwali where everyone posts how good Deepavali was during their childhood days. Whatever you thought of writing, is already posted and forwarded a million times.
The first Deepavali I remember is a tragic one for two reasons. One, our grandma, first appeared in The Family Autocrat – Tribute To My Grandma, used to get our dresses tailored from our family tailor Venkatesan. The sizes were always extra large (to keep up with our growing taller and bigger). And Deepavali was the only occasion we got new cloths. So on Diwali day, we looked kind of clownish. Had we saved those shorts, we could have worn them couple of decades later when the young ones across the country started wearing shorts ditching the traditional Lungis.
The second was my sister’s best friend Bhavani, who ran backwards and hit a parapet wall after lighting a cracker. She had a fracture in the hip and was rushed to a hospital, which was in a town about 18 kilometres away. It was a major accident and she suffered for years due to that accident. It even affected her eyesight later.
The best Deepavalis were during our high school in Madras. The biggest talking points in our lives during those years were talking about the upcoming Deepavali and the Test Match around Pongal festival. The expectations were huge and the disappointments as well. For Deepavali we never used to get as many fire crackers as we wanted nor the type of dress we expected. But on Deepavali day everything was forgotten and it always ended up as a memorable one. Test Matches probably dished out more disappointments as India did not win too many matches then.
One Deepavali still stands out and just like the other stories, from biking to radio repairs, it involves JK.
It was proving to be a perfect Deepavali. Our father was posted in Chennai and was working at the company Head Office. Our aunt who lived in a distant suburb landed two days in advance. She helped mom to make lot of sweets and savouries. She also took over distribution of sweets and new cloths.
Dad bought a lot of fire crackers on the eve of Diwali on his way back from office. We were in a hurry and opened them. When dad saw them, he realised one packet of crackers was missing. In spite of mom’s objections, he went to the shop to retrieve them. The shop was near his office which included a fifteen minute walk to the station, a metro train ride for 20 minutes and a return journey.
JK and I decided to wake up early and be the first one to let the crackers go. There used to be a huge completion in the neighbourhood as to who would start bursting crackers first.
We woke up at 3.45 AM and took the traditional oil bath. Deepavali was the only day where we did not require too much prodding to get up. Other days, mom used to shout at least for 10 or 15 minutes to wake us up especially during exam time.
The God was kind to the citizens of Chennai that day. Madras as Chennai was called then, did not get any rains, a perfect weather for Diwali. The crackers turned out to be better than we expected. In those days, the failure rate of crackers (the flower pots not lighting up, the sparkles which would just not start or the crackers which won’t burst) was about 50 percent. On this Diwali though, the failure rate was much less.
So we started in earnest had a couple of hours of blast, took a break for breakfast and started again. The crackers used to be cheap and plenty in quantity. For one rupee, we could get 100 Bijlis (a single cracker is about one inch in length and gave out small thump sound). The Kuruvi vedi (sparrow crackers) used to come in a pack of 5 and 25 packs were in one carton. So we could keep bursting for hours.
The tradition in those days was to collect all the failed crackers and flower pots, rip them and put all the contents into a large newspaper and light it. The result was a mixture of fire, smoke and sound. The downside was it could flare up alarmingly at your face and it did that year.
After an early lunch JK and I set out to burst the concoction we made. There were contents from flower pots, sparkles, wheels and half a dozen other varieties. We poured all the contents into an empty carton, closed it and inserted a bit of newspaper to set the fire. Readers who know how patient I am, in doing things would not be surprised at what followed. A gusty wind was blowing; so JK and I kept our hands on top of the packet to prevent the box from opening. I lit the paper assuming we could take our hands off before the fire touched the contents. But the fire beat us and whole packed exploded in our hands.
It took us a couple of seconds to understand what happened. Our hands were burning and the sulphur from the crackers coated our hands with thick coat of silver colour. We thought cold water would help to subside the irritation. We ran to the backyard and immersed our hands in a bucket of water kept near the well.
Moms have an built in intuition which help them to sense something is going wrong sitting thousand miles away. Our mother was hardly a few metres away; she sensed something was not correct, came to the backyard and asked us what happened. Without a moment of hesitation, we replied the sambhar rice we had was spicy and there is a light irritation in our fingers and we we were cooling it. She was not convinced.
After a few minutes we realised this was going to be more serious than we expected. The skin was slowly peeling off from our fingers. We went inside and reported what happened. Dad who was taking a nap woke up hearing the commotion. Mom put some coconut oil over the fingers. Finding a doctor on Deepavali days was close to impossible.
Ramachandran, our neighbour said he knew a doctor’s residence near our school and he would take us there. He put us on his bicycle (one at the front and one at the back) and peddled away to the Doctor’s house. The doctor was away but his family was kind enough to offer us some place to sit. We were wringing our hands in pain and desperately controlling our tears.
The doctor’s son Raghu was studying in our school. He had a huge collection of Muthu comics and our favourite Irumbukkai Mayavi stories (the steel claw). The comics helped us to take our minds off from the pain; the doctor arrived soon, put some ointment and sent us home.
More than four decades have passed since the incident. On every Deepavali day, we recall the incident during family lunch. Deepavali brings back the joy and nostalgia into everyone’s life across the country and it’s truly ‘the festival‘ of India.
Here’s wishing all the readers a very Happy Deepavali.
Doodle Courtesy: Renuka
The first lines are from a song written by Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram for Tamil Movie – Kalyana Parisu. You can watch this lovely song here: Unnai Kandu Naan Aada