Chintu was sitting with his legs folded, elbow on his knees and his hand on his cheek. He seemed to be deep into thoughts; his eyes were gloomy and staring at the lightening decorated by the houses and shops in his vicinity. He was sitting still... unmoved even by the loud sound of crackers. It was Diwali - the festival of lights... and this Diwali was also no different to Chintu from his past six Diwali's. But now, as he was growing, he was starting to get the feel of things. He was starting to develop a sense of longing, a sense of jealousy, a sense of loneliness, a sense of helplessness. The kids of his age were busy lighting candles, firing crackers, go shopping with their parents to buy more crackers, clothes, toys etc. but for Chintu, Diwali is like any other regular day when his father comes late in the night after working hard the whole day, cook food for Chintu and then they both retire to sleep after taking dinner only to wake up at 5 in the morning to begin their next routine day.
This time Diwali happened to be in early November and chilly winds were all set to send a shiver down the spine, yet Chintu was sitting in his old Nekar (shorts) and Baniyan (undershirt) which looked muddy and worn-out because of being used more than its capacity. Today, it looks like Chintu was missing his mother. Earlier, Chintu couldn't understand about mother, as he has never seen her but off late he has started to miss her. All those stories that his father tells him in the night about his mother started to make him feel proud of her, miss her and relate to her more. He often argues with God that, "It is high time now. You've kept my Mom long enough, please let her come back and my father will take care of her". He often look himself in the mirror to find his Mumma, as Manorama Dadi, his neighbor, often says that he is the exact replica of his mother.
It was a small neighborhood, somewhat like Mumbai chawls in the gullies of Old Delhi. Everyone was busy with themself. Parents were looking after their kids who were running around with fuljharies (a kind of fire cracker) in hand, some running in their utmost capacity after lighting the fire in a bomb that is about to explode and laughing their hearts out. Some were jumping and crisscrossing the sparks of chakar-ghinni (another kind of firecracker that do rounds on floor) and competing whose chakar-ghinni lasts long. But Chintu - he has no candles to light, no crackers to fire and no toys to play for he was a son of a poor man, who has no rights to enlighten his kid’s Diwali. In spite of being poor, Ramesh was a man of integrity. He taught his son all good lessons of life that every urban kid gets by his teachers, parents or grandparents. He has sown seeds of honesty and integrity in the little Chintu by practicing what he preaches. That might be the reason that Chinu has attained a state of maturity at seven years of age and was not barging into other kid’s toys or crackers to satisfy his desire to celebrate. Instead, he was waiting for his father to come back!
It was 11 PM in night, when Chintu saw a familiar shadow falling on his little feet, this bought smile on his otherwise emotionless face. His eyes started to sparkle and he immediately shouted ”Pappa” and ran wildly towards Ramesh. As Chintu held his arms around Ramesh’s feet, he heard a subdued painful sigh from his father and then realized that his father was injured on his right side. Both his arm and leg are mildly burned and bleeding. Chintu got scared. Ramesh immediately took Chintu in his lap and put up a brave face by ignoring the injury and diverting his attention to the fuljhari and the rocket (fire cracker) that he somehow managed to get for Chintu out of his meager earnings of the day. Without wasting much time, he put the cooker on stove with daal and rice, to prepare ‘khichdi’ for himself and Chintu. Meanwhile he and Chintu came out to fire the two crackers that Ramesh got for Chintu. It hardly took a minute to get their quota of crackers exhausted.
It was already late at night, only sporadic sound of crackers was heard and only few rockets can be seen in the sky intermittently. Most of the people went into their home and the road was all covered by the remains of the crackers like burned papers, fused crackers etc. Ramesh picked up a diya (a small cup-shaped oil lamp made of baked clay) that was lying on the road and started gathering the remains of the crackers and putting it beside diya. Chintu got interested by this activity and he too started doing the same. Within minutes they managed to gather a huge pile of remains beside diya. Now both Chintu and Ramesh sat across each other with diya and the pile of remains in between them. Ramesh lit a match-stick lit up a paper and put it in diya. Ramesh started to put burned papers, small torn packets one by one and fire started catching pace. Chintu was thrilled by now. He also started following Ramesh and started pouring the remains one by one.. they did all sorts of things, when fire became dim, they blew air and put more material to enhance fire, when it got high then they slowed down to let fire douse a bit. Chintu and Ramesh took names of different crackers before adding their bit to fire in their respective turns each time. This was the best Diwali Chintu was having. He was so happy by the fact that everyone is asleep as he didn’t wanted anyone to copy his father’s idea and relish as he was enjoying. They both kept going for next 35-40 minutes when Chintu started feeling sleepy. Ramesh again took Chintu in his lap and went inside his house to have dinner. On the way Chintu asked, “Pappa, what is the name of this game? I enjoyed it very much, let’s play it often.” Baffled by this question, Ramesh said impromptu, “Keechda-Paachda”!
After having dinner Chintu didn’t took much time to sleep. There was a tender smile on his face as he was sleeping and an expression of contentment was clearly visible. But Ramesh’s cheeks were wet and the eyes were red, the reasons to which could be manifold - his incessant pain that he was having throughout the time due to his injuries that he got after having an accident with a firecracker while pulling his rickshaw or it could be the worry for tomorrow, how he will manage to pull the rickshaw with his injuries and earn for his little kid or it could be due to loneliness that he faces after his wife’s demise or it could be the tears of happiness, for he was at least able to make his kid feel content and happy on his seventh Diwali….