A Diwali Encounter

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A brief encounter on Diwali day puts life in perspective for this writer.

Submitted: March 16, 2018

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Submitted: March 16, 2018



  The first thing I saw when I looked at her were the tear drops that were about to roll down her face. She wiped them with her dupatta as she sat opposite me in the train. The woman who had helped her board the train took a seat right next to her. I flashed a feeble smile at both and continued to stare at the teary-eyed woman, knowing that it wasn't the right thing to do. Clad in a grey salwar kameez, she was a frail, middle-aged woman; the freckles on her face - a tad too many for her age, I thought - were now vying for my attention. Our eyes met briefly and we both shifted our gazes quickly.

  Soon after, I was distracted by the glint of a gold-plated diya; it's amazing the kind of things you can buy in a train these days. The woman peddling them thrust two in front of my eyes, and I have to admit that I was fascinated. You'd think shiny things have that effect only on children, but clearly, I am yet to outgrow this weakness for Diwali shimmer. I reluctantly shelled out a hundred bucks for two diyas and then remarked rather loudly that I wasn't sure if my mother would approve of my choice. "It's bad enough that I can't do rangolis. I just hope she'll like these," I said to no one in particular. 

  As if on cue, the teary-eyed woman - she was slumped in her seat all this while, tired no doubt - sat upright. "Drawing a rangoli doesn't have to be difficult! You can go for the simplest of designs," she said enthusiastically. 

  Out came a note book - some of its pages were dogeared, I couldn't help but notice - and a pen. She opened the last page of the book and began sketching. Two swift strokes later, her voice piped up again. "The trick is to use not just your hands or your stencil. You should use a toothpick. Here look, think of the ball pen as a toothpick - you draw a line here and there's your petal. Repeat this stroke around the circle and you've got yourself a sunflower. Believe me, it's that easy. Of course, it isn't looking so good on paper. But it will when you use the toothpick. Or wait, even a match stick will do the job. But I'd go with a toothpick; try that first," she went on even as all the women sitting around her, yours truly included, sat enraptured. 
Then came the photos. Pulling out her phone, she showed me images of the rangolis she had done: a peacock, a kalash and a rose, all beautifully etched out against the canvas of the floor. "I only have photos from the past three years; I didn't have a phone with a camera until then," she said. As if in agreement, I nodded my head vigorously. 

  "What rangoli did you come up with this year?" I couldn't help but ask. Her face fell at this, and I instantly regretted asking her the question. But she recovered quickly and replied, "Oh this year, I didn't have the time to do anything elaborate; so I made a sunflower rangoli. You know, my niece started out with the sunflower before moving on to more intricate patterns. This is why I suggest you do the same. Don't forget the toothpick trick!" 

  I smiled at this and made a mental note; yes, I would give it a shot when I got home. But what struck me more was her sudden spurt of enthusiasm; for those moments, it completely overshadowed the bald patches that I was shamelessly staring at until a few minutes ago. "Oh, it's Andheri already; I have to get going," she said, as she shuffled out of her seat. We - the other passengers and I - looked on as she alighted safely, this time with help from a young girl. The tired look was back again; it was writ large on her face. As the train pulled out of the station, her face receded from my view. 

  "The chemotherapy has taken its toll on her; but luckily, her office and her family have been very supportive," said the woman who had helped her board half an an hour ago. 
I didn't know what to say, so I smiled like a fool.


  There I was in my seat, grumbling about my life's problems before my eyes fell on her - only to realise now how lucky I was. More importantly, all it took for her eyes to light up was the mere mention of rangolis. I am not sure if her rangoli lesson will help improve my skills. But I have a bigger takeaway: to look for the light in one's life and follow it. Diwali is a great time to make memories; but this one will linger in my thoughts for a long, long time to come. And like her indefatigable spirit, this episode will shine brighter than many others. I hope she wins her battle against cancer. 

(Written on Diwali day, 2014). 


© Copyright 2018 Vidya Prabhu. All rights reserved.

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