Diwali has always been a hassle. We would shrink seeing the neighbours making endless trips to the market and bringing bags full every time. The shattering loud noise that the exotic crackers and bombs their children would burst, would pierce into our ears.
“Look Pa, how irresponsible they are… causing so much pollution. Why don’t they burn the wad of notes they have spent on buying them? Wouldn’t that be better?” My daughter said on the last Diwali night.
However, the sadness in her eyes had bored a hole in my heart.
“The only genuine smile that adorns the innocent lips of children on Diwali is when their hands holding the burning sparkles move in sync.” My friend Ratnesh had said giving two boxes of sparkles to Antra. I had observed many cracker-free Diwali in my childhood and knew it well.
For the last one month, my wife and I had been working hard to see the broadest smile on the faces of my children.
“Don’t give me any part payment but give me the whole amount when I finish the complete lot and I will do it before Diwali.” I had told the contractor. He had agreed.
We ran a garment fabrication unit with only my wife and I doing all the work. We didn’t get big orders frequently; that is why hired tailors didn’t stay with us for long. Toshi did most of the stitching work. I looked after the cutting, ironing and packing. Sometimes, I helped her with stitching. However, I could do only the simple and straight sewing.
We had to stitch six hundred fifty ladies suits in twenty days, that would fetch us seven thousand eight hundred bucks at twelve bucks a piece. That would be enough to make this Diwali memorable for us.
The sample he had shown had a joint on the sleeve. While preparing the pattern for cutting, Toshi and I tried in every possible way to do without it, but nothing worked. The cloth was insufficient.
“Why not to put a joint in the salwar instead of the kurti? At least, it would not be visible there?” I suggested. Toshi liked the idea. “But, we should take the contractor’s approval before going ahead.”
“Why should he have any objection? A concealed joint is better than a visible one.” I maintained.
I prepared the patterns for cutting on the same night. A two-inch joint on the top of salwar posed more trouble in stitching but, I was sure that the contractor would shower praises on me for such an innovation.
Wanting to finish the assignment as early as we could, we overworked ourselves, ran our legs on the machine paddles all night every alternate day so that we could enjoy a leisurely shopping spree. We promised extravaganza to Antra and Ashrut. Their eyes glimmered and voice jingled with excitement of expectation. That soaked all our fatigue. On every Diwali, Toshi would make new dresses, but this time, we had thought of buying trendy ready-made garments for them. It’s been long that I had gifted a sari to Toshi. Buying a new one for her was also in my mind.
Lately, celebrating festivals have become a pricey affair. Poors like us, dread the sight of a festival approaching. Festivity for a church mouse is the time to realize his smallness. Seeing others celebrating them exuberantly only instils inferiority complex in the people who are out at the elbows. I was resolute to make the approaching festival of light a memorable one for my family.
Ten days before Diwali, we completed the assignment. Sleep was far from my eyes that night as I envisaged the cheerful faces of my kids choosing the things they wanted in the market. I foresaw the beautiful smile returning to my wife’s lips; the smile that rejoiced me before our marriage and the smile my unemployment had robbed her of. Though she still looked always happy, yet, I could see the despair in her eyes. Whenever I try to bring it out of her, she says, “Your love is my real treasure. It never lets me feel any dearth.” Then, she pulls my head to rest on her shoulder and fondles my hair. I was desperate to end the misery.
Next morning, I packed the suits in the sack and stowed it on the carrier of my bicycle. I was penniless, nevertheless I didn’t ask Toshi if she had any. That day, I wanted to give her so thick a wad of notes that I had never placed in her hands.
I started with hope and aspiration in my eyes.
“What have you done? Who told you to show your cleverness?” The contractor shouted, seeing the joint on the piece he had unfolded to check.
“But, it is better to put a joint at in unseen place.” My voice was feeble.
“Who are you to decide that? What for we gave you the sample? Show your mastery on your own fabric. Take them away and you will have to pay for the entire lot at the rate of one hundred and ten a piece.” He was furious.
I pleaded and held his feet. At last, he said, “I can just give you time to sell them elsewhere and pay the amount. Get lost and do it as soon as you can.”
I walked pulling my cycle along. My eyes were hazy. I could hear nothing except the harsh words of the contractor who mercilessly shattered all hopes with which I had come to him.
“How will I face Toshi and the children? What will I tell them? No, I will have to do something.” My heart was throbbing faster than the flickering flames on the earthen lamps lined on every wall on the Diwali night. I mounted on the cycle and turned to go to the Red Fort. Roadside stalls may take them. One hundred and twenty bucks are nothing for a suit with a stole.
“Yes, if not all, I may sell some of them today to take something back home.” I gathered hope and paddled harder.
The stall owners at the Red Fort market did take eighty-four pieces but, none of them agreed to pay for them immediately. I came back penniless.
My family was worried for me when I reached home. Toshi gave me the glass of water and tears from my eyes dropped in it.
“What happened?” She pulled me towards her and hid my head in her bosom.
“He rejected the whole lot,” I could only manage to say and burst into more tears.
All four of us wept for hours. Our wet eyes saw the light of the bulb shimmering as if teasing us with scorn. “That’s the only way destitute like you can celebrate Diwali.”
Only the darkness at the farthest corner of the room remained quiet. It didn’t ridicule or humiliate. It only mourned with us, in silence, as if it was a part of our family. As much as we tried to push it away, it followed like an orphan waiting to be held with love!