Thursday, July 07, 2005

Out of thin "Smoke"

I did hint that my next posting would talk about the fireworks display on the fourth of July. The display was magnificent no doubt, but unfortunately green, blue, yellow, pink, purple and all the flashy colors I witnessed three nights ago will still be 'black' words on a 'white' background in my blog. As the visual spectacle reached a climax, the smell of the smoke wafting in reminded me of something else. Strangely enough, smoke smells the same in India and America and my thoughts drifted half the world away to Diwali. In case you are wondering why the display itself didn't bring thoughts of Diwali, let me tell you that I am wondering about that myself. Nevertheless it didn't. Perhaps because it was so different from what I was used to seeing.

Almost invariably Diwali begins the same way for me every year. Around five in the morning I hit the ceiling, bounce a couple of times between the ceiling and my bed and then come to rest on the bed(sometimes on the floor) with a look of shocked bewilderment on my face, not knowing what hit me. Until the next thunderous explosion shakes the very foundations of our house that is. Then realisation sinks in. I curse my neighbors' children who just HAVE to burst "hydrogen", "atom" and the more popular "lakshmi" bombs at such an ungodly hour, curse my neighbors for having such children, curse the world in general and then plug my ears and get back to sleep.

Try to get back to sleep I mean. Let me state here that it is very difficult to sleep while holding your hands to your ears. If you don't believe me, try it sometime. Sleeping on your side would mean sleeping on your elbow (ouch), sleeping on your back would mean either of two things.. 1) Your arms are unsupported. 2) Your arms are stretched out at an unnatural angle of 180 degrees from each other(gymnasts please excuse). And if you don't think that 1) is too big a deal let me remind you about that "raise your hands" punishment everyone of you must have gone through in school. Good, now you get the idea. And of course, sleeping on your stomach would mean immense pressure on your forearms.

After logically considering all three alternatives, I decide to go with the "sleeping on the stomach" option. Soon the ache in my arms becomes unbearable. I sit up deciding to put to good use the brain God has been kind enough to implant in me and give some serious thought to the problem. A pillow catches my eye. Gleefully, I sandwich my head between my two pillows. A wasted effort. It takes less than 2 minutes of continuously modifying the position of my head in between the pillows for me to realise that a hundred pillows would be necessary to effectively muffle out the sound. I considered collecting pillows from all the rooms and the sofas but it took less than 10 seconds for even my "tubelightish" brain to conclude that we DID NOT have a hundred pillows even if I counted the dusty ones lying on the top shelves of our wardrobes.

Totally frustrated, I begin to pace the floor in my room while the nerves in my brain worked overtime to solve what appeared to be an NP hard problem(unsolvable ie). By this time it was 6:30 am and the explosions had reached a crescendo. The early risers had woken up the entire neigborhood which wasn't surprising. What was surprising was that the later risers seemed to think that the best way to punish the early birds for their transgression, was to drown out their noise with more bombs. What foolishness!!! Of course, the incessant noise meant continuous lapses in concentration, ruining any chances of brainstorms. Giving up, I resolve to catch up on my sleep the next day and head out to brush... which is a mistake.

My mom catches me in the hallway. "Nirmal, I'm glad you got up so early.. you need to go to the shop". While I stare at her wondering if I really heard those words.. she goes on.. "There is no milk in the house and I need to make coffee." Fear crept into my eyes. She couldn't possibly be serious could she? I ask her if she knew it was Diwali today. She did of course.. the neighbors had made certain of that. I plead with her but to no avail. I remind her that I'm her only son but she still does not relent. Instead she says "Be a man". That did it. I turn purple with rage. "I'll show her", I think. Another mistake. I shouldn't have fallen for that cheap trick.

Ten minutes later I am at the gate feeling not unlike a soldier about to set foot onto a minefield. I look down the road carefully, trying to chart out a safe route to my destination which was 300 metres away. Being used to running long distances during my school days I would have scoffed at 300 metres on any other day. That day, however the distance seems to be of a much larger magnitude than the distance from Boston to Chennai. I hesitate. The sight of my mom on the balcony propels me. The time had come. I muster all my courage and hurtle down the road. Think of how a dog would run with a triggered string of a 1000 "bijlis"(I forget what they are called) tied to it's tail and you have the exact picture of me hurtling down the road. I zig and zag avoiding both real and imaginary bombs. With my hands over my ears of course. Again, it is not easy to run with your hands on your ears.. especially if there is a shopping bag in one of those hands.. sort of upsets your balance. On top of all that I find that everyone in sight is looking at me as if I were a prize goof. Downright degrading. At long last I reach the store. On my way back I foolishly assume that having reached my destination unscathed it would be safest to take the same route back home. It turns out I was wrong. The net result: I come within 5 feet of an exploding "hydrogen" bomb. I get home in a state of shock, my ears ringing and my eyes staring blankly into space. I look sorrowfully at my Mom and hand her the bag with the milk, expecting a few words of sympathy but I get none. She grabs the bag and walks into the kitchen leaving me gaping after her.

The afternoon is relatively quieter and I am more than content to lie in bed, with a book and some sweets(a more pleasant aspect of Diwali), which some of our neighbors' kids(those over enthusiastic early birds) brought across. (Thank god I was out on my perilous journey to the store when they came over, else I might be languishing in a jail in India for murder right now.) No disturbances at all except for a call from my friend in the evening asking me if I wanted to play cricket. I laugh at him and tell him to go jump in a lake. Inwardly I sighed. It isn't very often that I get a chance to play cricket.

Is this all worth it? Indeed it is. For the sun is about to set.

With sunset comes the best part of Diwali.. the LIGHTS.. The lights may not be as fancy as the display the other night but the sheer numbers more than make up for it. The entire city seems lit up. From my third floor balcony, I see large masses of people on the road and in front of houses lighting up a a variety of firecrackers. Children laugh happily while clutching sparklers or lighting flowerpots(I just love flowerpots). Come to think of it, I'd rather light a small flower pot or a plain rocket myself than just watch a professional set up a massive array of fireworks. While admiring the amazing spectacle before me I realise that I'm still holding my ears to block out the intermittent ruckus. I begin to wonder "If Diwali is the festival of lights, where does the sound fit in?" Of course EVEN I'm not ignorant enough to want soundless firecrackers. I only have a problem with fireworks that produce sound exclusively. Even that would be alright, if the sound were rythmic/melodious/musical. I just do not see the point of lighting up something, then running helter-skelter and waiting fearfully for it to go just... "BAAAMMMM"; which is what I see most people do. Anyway I guess it's a matter of taste. I enjoy the sight for a little bit and make my way inside.

Reflection on the day's happenings: I put up with some noise and get to eat a whole variety of sweets and view a large scale firework display without
1)having to do any "Pooja".
2)having to get up early and bathe.
3)having to go about knocking on doors and distributing sweets.

Not a bad deal at all.

And let me share a secret. I actually missed not being blasted out of bed last year. lol...

One last thing.. Happy Birthday Mom.. I love you.. :-)

21 comments:

Prasanna said...

well man in others pain lies one's happiness!

Anonymous said...

That's true Prasanna....By the way, I am Bhagi,Leon's senior at UNH....

anupama said...

dude........this is a good one...i enjoyed it thoroughly.........keep writing!!!!!!!

Leon said...

Thanks anu.. My first compliment. :-).

Anonymous said...

u only speak about ur typical diwali day.the fireworks helped for the introduction i suppose.there is very little said about the fireworks though u mentioned that thats what u intended to expand on.the blogs title however fits both the occasions.do not mention what ur next blog is going to be on unless u know it for sure. well written though.

Leon said...

Hi, (It would be great if you could leave a name the next time.. )

I didn't feel I could do justice to the display. You would have to see it. So I changed my mind and talked about something else.

Thanks a lot for the feedback. :-)

minu said...

hey leon..i seemed to hv posted my comment to the wrong blog..was actually supposed to write it for this one..so ck it out in ur other blog..did any of this make sense?

Leon said...

Thanks Minu.. I read it.. And yes all that you said did make sense.. lol

Born Critic said...

Not bad at all dear...u are making fast progress..... the first one was well written.this was entertainin too. and there were even a few sentences that made serious sense!!!! i also wish to add that it was a loot better than i could have done.... :-)

CalmWinds_Typhoons said...

Good writing!I enjoyed reading this.Bought back memories of all those Diwalis and those 'head baths'[This is a system typical to the South of India when during auspicious occasions,you oil your hair and then take a hot hot bath]

Sayesha said...

Hey Leon,
Thanks for dropping by my blog! You've got a nice one here! :)

Leon said...

Thanks for taking the time to read my writing calmwinds.. Glad you enjoyed the post.. :-)

And Sayesha.. thanks. I just hope u feel the same way about my blog a few months down the line.. ;-)

Pavithra said...

Hi Nirmal...got to kno wat bloggin is jus now....quite interestin....& for the first time i saw Diwali in an entirely different way...I realy enjoyd it...

Leon said...

Thanks Pavi.. I'm glad u liked it. :-)

Murali said...

Hey Leon, that was a good one Man very entertaining, especially the parts where u r woken out of bed gently and walk to shop leisurely. But I did not like the end where U r happy with the proceedings. Anyway U can be sure of one thing Ur welcome the next time U come back home.

P.S. The bijlis tied together is called Saravedi or known by the number of bijlis like 28 wala, 56 wala etc.

Leon said...

Hey murali.. thanks for the info.. It comes to me now!

Ms. V said...

I just read this post as you suggested. But you know what? I have no idea what it really looks and feels like on Diwali. Only whatever Bollywood has shown me.

The trying to get to sleep part was funny! I've tried that a couple of times myself when my sis is being a pain, but it has never worked! I suggest ear plugs.

Leon said...

Hmm.. are you an ABCD then?.. ;-)

damn.. Now why didn't I think of ear plugs.. :p

JJ said...

Hi...

What about the part when you bursted crackers?

PS : PHEW... it's 3:15 am and I just finished reading ALL your blogs... Aswsome man!!

Camphor said...

lol. Then you would be glad to know that for the last two year, the definately-not-beloved Amma (aka CM Jayalalitha) has imposed a time limit on the cracker bursting? 6 am to 10 pm only. Not near hospitals or old age homes. A couple of other rules that I never paid attention to, so I don't know....

Psst. Minus my bro who hasn't been around for the last three diwali's, crackers are no fun. So I have decided that no crackers for me. Of course, it might also have something to do with the fact that I heard 12 ayiram vadis (1000 of those red little bijilis together, just in case you didn't know) being tied together and set off. I was in a bad mood the entire day, and I think that my ears are still ringing.

oh, and if you are an ABCD, then that would explain how you meet an abnormally high humber of Iyengaar girls. Most of us are abroad. :D

Home decorating deals said...

I've never experienced Diwali. I can't compare it to other festivals because of course, it has one distinctive element. That is, it is hard to find many other festivals where lights play such an important part. Thanks for sharing your experience.