Part I – Putting Out The Lights

Lakshmi crinkled her eyes in a bewildered manner as the factory manager hollered out the same instructions twice.

“Get lost, all of you. No more crackers needed”

The crisply barked instructions were hard to comprehend for the 14-year old and she decided to consult Gayatri Aunty, her trusted local guardian cum advisor on all things financial and otherwise.

“Aunty, what does this mean? Won’t we make any more crackers?”

Gayatri Aunty was slumped, as if in a stupor, beads of nervous sweat glistening on her neck.

“Lakshmi… I don’t know what to tell you..that rat says the factory is out of business.. some Court order…”

“But.. but.. my bonus..?” a pair of eyes enquired, very near to tears.

“Nothing child.. we’ve to vacate the huts within 12 hours.. come away.. come away my child..”

Lakshmi stood absolutely still, things spinning in her wake. Her mind metamorphosed a complex series of images right from her father’s paralysis to the brother’s school fees, the promised bonus she’d been slaving away for, the new television it would have brought to her remote village home.

Lakshmi shuddered as a familiar stench gripped her nostrils. The clogged, rickety, all-engulfing stench of unemployment. Of Poverty. Of Sweat. Of Tears. Of Tightly Clenched Fingers Shaking with Rage.

Post Script –

Diwali dawned on the residents of a small North-Indian town with the news of the death of a cracker factory supervisor in mysterious circumstances. “Suicide” was all the police was willing to say. “See what happens when our Hindu customs are banned by the Court” was the Right-Wing’s juicy headliner while “deplorable law and order” seemed to be the Opposition’s pitch.

No one seemed to know anything.

Only She knew..

Part II – Putting Them Back On

Aparajita’s could not mask her broad smile as she heard the squeal of tyres on gravel.

He’s back!

After all, the sheer effort involved in doing up a huge 100 year old mansion (well-maintained nonetheless) with fairy lights and candles had to be worth it.

It was Diwali eve and Aparajita could not hold back any longer. She ran out to the imposing verandah with its pristine view of the driveway and lawn below. She could see her father and mother out front with the bevy of cousins and relatives that she had yet to meet. And Him, of course.

Cut it out, a voice rang out in her head. After all, hadn’t she mastered the art of smiling away to glory? Hadn’t she taken her mother’s acting lessons (social skills silly) to heart and expressed her delight enough? Hadn’t she been delighted the day he’d gone off to the US? Hadn’t she been thrilled to bits when she checked her best pal Anju’s phone on the sly? And of course, hadn’t she smiled back when she’d got that scar on her cheek, the one that her curls (they grew just in time) so lovingly hid.

She heard loud voices below. It didn’t matter anymore she told herself. What’s done is done.

They must be celebrating rather loudly.

The clink of broken glass.

Oh My God, what is really going on?

She decided to look out some more.

Was the black sedan really driving out of the gate? Why was everyone so silent? Why was her mother admonishing her father with the choicest of loving epithets?

She turned back, unable to really keep a lid on her thoughts.

Click. The verandah was bathed in light. Someone had apparently made the connection.

Who else but her father.

Happy Diwali (Mr. Grover, not his usual self, managed a grim half smile)

Post Script –

All she remembered of the day were the twinkling fairy lights, a verandah that seemed to have suddenly expanded to vast proportions and of course, the reassuring smell of Eau-de-Cologne (her father’s favourite).

After all, Diwali was the day Mr. Grover grew a spine.

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