The Morning After

Ma! Look! Winter is here!’ My younger one was standing by my bedside with a blanket draped around him. Had I been living in Shimla, I would have jumped, and ran to the balcony to feel the first snowflake melt on my face. But I am not. So I croaked, ‘What on Earth are you doing?’

On a day off after Diwali, that is all I do – croak if woken at five in the morning. A tiny hand slid out of the blanket and tugged at mine. I resisted whacking the end of that arm, and put all the energy I had, in peeling myself off the bed. We went to the balcony – I, looking for that snowflake, and he, dragging the blanket behind him with one confused pug sitting on the tailing end. The wide eyes prevented me from delivering another whack for sweeping the entire floor with a freshly dry-cleaned blanket. Forget about the dog hair.

The decorative lights, that draped the house, were now being mocked by the rising sun. My son was still waiting for me to say something.

‘What? Where’s the winter?’

‘Tch! Look around you Ma! All this Fog…’ He pulled the blanket closer, this time toppling the now snoozing pug.

‘Seriously? Bebu, that’s Smog not Fog!’

‘Smog, fog – same thing.’

‘They are not. And I can tell you the difference if you run down to tell bhaiya to make a cup of tea for me.’

‘No. I don’t want to know. I like it this way. It is more wintery.’

I stood there taking in measured breaths. A long drag, and I could still smell the firecrackers that had lit up the sky last night. So short breaths it was going to be. A dog limped across the road, and another bunch barked him on. The poor thing must’ve landed here trying to save himself last night.

Dobby was by now furiously scratching at my feet. Morning walk time. Last night all five had been huddled together. Every time a bomb went off or a rocket whizzed past, they went ballistic barking, followed by whimpers, some shivers, and more huddling. Shutting windows, playing some music and an extra treat – nothing helped. So it was relieving to see him bounce around, waking the rest of the pack for their morning stroll. My younger one had promptly gone back to sleep after introducing me to the winters.

Dobby walked with me, while our helper was taken for a walk by the rest of them. The world was still asleep- probably hung-over from the euphoria of Diwali.  Some of them, I imagine, had had too much to eat, and some too little. Some had lit up rows and rows of colourful diyas, while, the chowkidar’s window boasted of a single, clay one. Some gates had piles of paper shreds in front of them, along with black stains on the driveway where the rocket had misfired. Other broken gates gave a glimpse of a family piled up inside.

Days before the festival, the markets start bursting at seams with people going crazy shopping – clothes are bought, mithais loaded, and rolls of gift paper taken home to re-wrap the gifts from last year. By the time Diwali arrives, even the sight of sweets makes your stomach turn, and you are left with more gifts to recycle than you had started with. All is festive till the lights are switched on, diyas lit and pujas done. And then night hits.

A loud boom echoes. Followed by whizzes, whooshes and more bangs and booms. All hell breaks loose. We hurried through our puja, brought all the dogs indoors, shut the doors and windows, and tried calming them. I reckon this was what a bomb shelter felt like. The noise reached a crescendo by midnight and then gradually died out. At three in the morning a neighbour suddenly felt a surge of Diwali enthusiasm, and sets out another string of crackers prompting me to mutter a string of abuses.

And now it had all ended, barring the ones that had been salvaged early morning by the kids living in the jhuggis around the corner. Every year, they tour the streets early morning, looking for the ones that had fizzled out, or not been lit properly, and so had been abandoned by the impatient enthusiasts. It seems they found quite a few.

Dobby was careful to avoid stepping on the empty rocket and anar shells. He prefers clean roads. The ears perked up every once in a while, and he let out a muffled woof every time the salvaged ones went off. A ten-minute walk is like a marathon for him, so we headed back home once he was done with his business.  As we neared the gate, I saw the sarkari sweeper. He always appeared around this time, only to go into a year long hibernation starting tomorrow.  His broom looked as used as it had the last year and the one before that. He just stood there leaning against the wall, rubbing tobacco in his palm. He must have seen me approaching because he hastily pulled his lower lip and stuffed it all in. The rarely used broom was put to use.

As I turned to go in, he ran up, and thrust his tobacco-stained palm out.

‘Happy Diwali, Madam!’

Ignoring his palm, I mumbled a thanks, and asked, ‘you are done sweeping?’

‘Almost. It takes a bit longer after Diwali.’ He didn’t even bat an eyelid before he blurted. I was tempted to ask, ‘longer than what? Last year’s Diwali sweeping?’

I resisted. He was known to dump garbage in front of the houses he didn’t like. Instead, I told him to stop by once he was done. He knew that he would get his yearly dues.

By then, Dobby had gone to sleep on the doormat, and the twinkling lights had been switched off.  A month long frenzy had slowly come to an end – the incessant advertisements screaming of Diwali discounts, the last minute jugaads to get the colourful lights going, the flowers being sold at half price post noon on Diwali, the stepped on Rangoli and the edgy dogs – all ended up in shreds of paper on the road. I watched as the man flashed a yellowing smile, picked up his broom, and went on to sweep Diwali away.

Originally posted at : The Morning After

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