Have you noticed how different a string of electric lights on a misty cold evening can be? If you are with a crowd its …its probably a party, if its just the two of you, the lights form a pool of sleepy stars, slow, languorous and undulating
And if ,like me, you found yourself sitting alone on a balcony in an empty house, with the railing edged with electric wire and yellow lights, it can also bring memories that sting your eyes.
The table in front of me is filmed with dust, the glass makes a scraping sound as put it back on the table , the moisture down its sides trickles to form a circle round the base.
There is now a wet pattern of circles on the table, some intersecting, and some alone, and some so close to each other that its hard to tell them apart, their boundaries smudged with intimacy.
A few hours ago they carried the last of the Ganpati’s away. I watched them all pass by, one by one. Standing in my balcony, I saw them all being led away, tamely to their watery end, surrounded by dancing teenage boys high on religious fervor, or maybe something else as well.
She used to love watching the processions go by. Every year, through the night, she would sit at this very balcony and wait for her favorites to pass. “ Why should I visit all the Ganesh Panadals? The Ganpati come to my doorstep !”.
I would normally sit inside, annoyed with the noise that invaded my street annually, trying to convince her to close the door to the balcony and come inside. After all, all this revelry really did not fit in with my scheme of things. So much of money wasted, burnt and squandered. Every Pandal set to outdo each other, the devotees bent on redeeming their sins with a shower of bank notes. No, such a gaudy festival was definitely not mine.
While she would sit in this very balcony, eagerly awaiting the next procession to go by, the interludes interspersed with steaming pakoras shared enthusiastically with the neighbors who would gather in our second story flat to watch the processions, crowding me out as I sat in the hall, unhappy with the ruckus, and angry with her for putting me through this year after year.
She would call me, again and again, “ Come Now, it’s the Shankarshet Ganapati !” “ At least see the Tulshibag Ganapti, its made of real Sandalwood”
I would pretend not to listen, and glare at her silently, ensuring that everyone around was aware of my disapproval and her scant disregard for my wishes.
Each year, as I lay next to her at night, hours after the last of the procession had long gone, and the last of the pakora eating guests wished away to their houses… she would sullenly complain, “ You could have come at least once, I called you so many times. Mr Sharma even took his kids to the roadside, you should have seen how Krishna was laughing with him”
And I would listen to her, searching for my cold victory in her sadness. My pride somewhat mollified for having taken away at least some of her enthusiasm… I had proved that I was stronger willed than her.
And last winter, she died. Suddenly and without warning. They placed her in the hall on slabs of ice. Trails of water streamed across the hall as the ice melted, and found their way into the balcony where they collected in a puddle. Her forehead was red, smeared with Sindoor, and she seemed more beautiful than I ever remembered her to be.
I sat next to her, for an entire night, trying to fathom her face for a million answers. In the morning, they covered her face with a lotus bloom and we carried her off down the road to the riverside.
They handed me a staff to break her skull as she burnt at the pyre. That was when I cried.
Its been six months, and I have become used to having an empty house to return to from office. Every evening as I unlock the door, the silence greets me with an unsettling familiarity.
I still find long strands of hair when the maid moves the furniture for cleaning, or swabs of cotton with her perfume in the almirah….bits of cloth in a bag sorted away to make a quilt for the next winter, or an unfinished embroidery.
This year, I sat in the balcony, alone. Not too many people visit me these days.
They have decorated the society with strings of yellow lights, which blink with sudden brightness in an unforgiving pulse.
I watched the Ganpati’s go by, all seventeen of them. I gazed at the lights and breathed in the incensed air. Tried hard to detect some familiar sensation, or a smithereen of memory being carried away down the road.
The crowds have dispersed now. The street seems unusually wide in its emptiness. I rose to go back into the house.
They should switch off these lights now…