Imran was extremely happy about two things as he left his dilapidated apartment in a Mahim chawl. One, that it was a bank holiday and that despite having to carry a school-bag, he didn’t have to go to school. He was in the sixth grade and he had had enough of it. The second thing that kept him happy was rather unusual for a child of his age in a city like Mumbai. In fact, it should be unusual for anyone of any age in any damn city. Imran’s father, Saqlain Ahmed, had taken him into a corner, sat him down and had, for the hundredth time, ran him through a set of instructions that he was to carry out. Imran knew them at the back of his hand. As he walked towards the Mahim station, his father’s words resonated in his ears – “Do this for us, Imran. I will go to Heaven tonight. And one day, Inshallah, you will see me there too. It’s what He wants.”
Imran hopped on to the next local train. It was headed towards Churchgate and wasn’t as crowded as usual. It was 7 in the evening. A large Diwali party was being organised at a cricket ground in Dadar. That’s where he was told to go. He took a seat near a group of three boys, roughly his age. An elderly Muslim man sat diagonally opposite to them, almost dozing off. Imran watched him. His face, though craggy with age, still had a glow about it.
Noor, if that’s what it was called. He remembered his mother saying the word often about her own father’s face.
Won’t this old man go to heaven too?
“Hey, are you going to the Diwali party?”
Imran’s chain of thought was broken. He looked up at one of the three boys. Imran nodded slowly. The boy smiled in return.
“I’m Veer,” he stuck his hand out. “You are?”
“I’m…,” Imran hesitated. “I’m Raju.”
The other two boys, Kartik and Sonu, introduced themselves too. Within moments, they began to chat as if they were long lost friends. They spoke about cricket, they spoke about movies, and then as the train was coming to a halt at the station, they spoke about Diwali.
“My mother says that the essence of Diwali is to realise the power of your inner light,” Veer shrugged. “I don’t know what that means, but I do enjoy bursting crackers.”
“I thought it was a celebration because that ten-headed monster Raavan got killed!” Sonu said.
“Who knows?” Kartik chimed in.
Imran didn’t offer an opinion.
They stood up from their seats in order to alight the train, the moment it halted at the station. The old man, stirred in his sleep as it slowed down. And then he woke up, standing behind the children. He smiled fondly, as he saw them holding crackers and boxes of sweets.
“Oh, you kids are off to the Diwali party?” He smiled. His voice lowered as he looked at Imran, who was the only one to look up at him directly. “One day you’ll understand what I’m about to tell you.”
The train stopped. The other boys got down. Imran and the old man waited on for a few more moments.
“The Raavan we so fondly burn, is created by us.”
He stepped down with a smile. Imran jumped down soon after and joined his new friends. They parted ways.
“What was that old man telling you, Raju?”
Imran was so deep in thought, he almost forgot his alias.
Imran looked up and smiled.
“I’ll be right back.” He said and ran to the nearby station washroom. The stench was unbearable, but he didn’t care. He locked himself into one of the revoltingly dirty cubicles, unzipped his bag and pulled out a carton of crackers. He opened it carefully, moved aside the few sparklers that were above a slab of something that resembled clay and had a few wires sticking out. He took it into his hands and dropped it into the toilet. His father’s words played out in his ears again.
“You will leave the box of crackers in a corner and rush back home, okay? I will come and light them and there will be a huge explosion. It’s our way of celebrating our journey to heaven.”
Well, that certainly wasn’t happening. Imran had left the Semtex drowning in the toilet. He walked out, his bag and shoulders lighter than they were when he walked in. He grinned at the kids waiting for him.
“By the way, guys,” He said, in a low voice. “I lied about something. My name isn’t Raju. It’s Imran.”
The kids looked at each other, shrugged and broke into laughter.
“What a pointless thing to lie about!”
They exited the station, ready to enjoy the festivities that awaited them. Little did they know, they had realised the power of their inner light.