Twenty-two candles. That's all my father came back with at 5:30 pm this evening. Everything else sold out. Ma was upset. Not that any of us had intended to contribute in any way to all the cracker-exploding shimmery-glimmery jollity that permeates the city this time of year. Diwali, it's called. When the stars go into hiding and are not missed by many. For weeks afterwards the smell of secondhand cigarette smoke reminds me of booming skies at two in the morning.
Twenty-two candles. Well. One must make the effort. They would have to do.
Ma set them up on the balcony, even spacing, lifting back her sleeves carefully, skirting around the potted plants. I hovered near, unhelpful, munching on kaju barfi. Why put up such miserly little things when they're going to go out in a few minutes anyway. She didn't deign to answer that one. We must be content knowing that we must.
People came. More barfi, laddoo too. Talking, laughing, pjs, ciggie smoke, breaking out the Smirnoff, political adda. An evening of general bangaliana. They all left eventually, off to have kali pujor bhog at another friend's place. Only Baba and me left. Someone turned on Sony Pix. I fiddled around with playlists, turned off the lights, lay flat on my bed and surfed missed calls. And then, interrupting the Doobie Brothers, walked out to the balcony.
Orange light everywhere. Burnt orange and thick fog. An electric streak cutting through where a child waved a feeble phuljhuri. Hiss of brief fire licking the sky. Only thing is, from this particular balcony you can't really see the sky at all.
Not one of the twenty-two candles remained. I was momentarily so surprised that I called Ma up, asking if they'd been stolen. Was told to not be silly, they'd just burned out, now don't bother me please.
Twenty-two candles that, true to prediction, had burned out before I'd ever got to see them. Is it strange that I should miss their light?