Tonight, the city prepares to celebrate; for the celebration of a holiday can never be spontaneous. Anticipation buzzes beneath the surface for weeks, under absent-mindedness at the workplace and mental shopping lists. Finally, it morphs into a tangible ribbon of heightened elation on a night when differences are put aside, and many hearts gather together with the conscious decision to be happy- for one night.
The minute the sun went down, eager children had scrambled to get a head start to the next day’s activity, producing sharp bursts of crackling light for a few minutes, and grumpy parents had been quick to rush out and chide them, threaten them into waiting. These days, few people think about why they celebrate this holiday. Religion fades into nothingness on nights such as these, and perhaps that is what makes them special. After the initial flurry of incorrectly timed activity, the night has become restlessly quiet; a silence which knows itself to be temporary has descended over Trivandrum.
Smells of spices and certain traditional dishes waft out of the kitchen windows of enthusiastic households. A few groups of inebriated college freshmen speed through the streets in dented second-hand sports cars. At the heart of the city, a large, bright fair- lights twinkling, rides creaking- attracts old and young alike. But for the most part, these familiar streets are quiet, and his feet trace a familiar path of their own accord.
He walks past tarpaulin-covered fruit shops and the most popular fast food joints with their shutters pulled down. The years have introduced him to every inch of the city, but some days, it looks lovelier than others. Tonight, it is bathed in a warm yellow glow. A heavy blanket of mist has positioned itself over the sleepy roads, and the air seems a bit sweeter- not for long, he thinks; the debris and smoke will have swallowed up every breathable portion of the atmosphere, in just a few hours. His footsteps seem soundless, and the infectious peace envelopes him too.
The streetlights seem somehow brighter as he nears his destination; he takes by-lanes and narrow residential streets until he finds the small island of a park. He places his hands on the low, grilled, mostly nominal fence, and jumps over to the other side. They are already waiting, and he takes his place beside the lost girl with blonde streaks in her hair; she grins at him, blindingly white and irrefutably perfect. On his other side, the boy who always pleased everyone passes him a one-litre bottle of Coca Cola, says nothing; for though there are words swirling in the air around them, none of them must be spoken.
They sit there for a long time, three people in faded jeans and button-ups, stretching their legs onto the tender green grass, and he finds himself offended by his happiness. There is nothing to be happy about, if they only thought about it. But, he decides, they can think about it another day, and lets the contented smile break free. A motorcycle onto the main road, and he watches, and they watch, welcoming the invisibility. The girl remarks that there are no police officers to be seen, and the others hum in agreement. He guesses the officers stationed here decided to take a day off as well, tonight, one of the big-but-not-too-big holidays: there is celebration, but not to the degree that their help would be required at any time tonight or tomorrow; no street fights to break up, not too many road accidents. Eventually, all three of them have ended up on their backs, soda bottles discarded carelessly, and he thinks he might not go home tonight. He might wake up alone come morning, but the park is as welcoming as ever, with tiny droplets of water dotting every surface- remnants of the afternoon thunderstorm.
The hours seem to have passed quickly, and before they know it, the festival of lights has started to stir. Quiet noises turn into a suppressed ruckus. In the distance, random names are called out, and footsteps pitter-patter across backyards. Doors and windows fly open, excited laughter and screeches of delight penetrate the air as the children finally get their way; porches light up with numerous tiny oil lamps, neighbourhoods come together. The first thump-crash-crackle is accompanied by a bright red explosion in the jet black sky. Blue and green and brilliant gold follow closely, until the individual colours merge into a spectacular whirlpool before their eyes, as the booming noises hug the city close.
On the moist grass, hands brush against each other, and smiling pairs of eyes meet. It is midnight on Diwali; and the city has come to life.