Perhaps the best part about living in India, according to me, is the people you meet here. Tall and short, fair and tanned, rich and poor – all of then blend in such a beautiful harmony that it is like watching a sunset, slowly, and without your knowing, the orange and the purple and the white and the blue have drowned into the abyss of darkness, almost magically.
Like I’ve always said, I find every person to be truly fascinating. There is a hope in their eyes. They cry happy smiles as well as sad. And even without speaking or doing any significant thing, in a strange way, they manage to reach deep and touch your heart. You remember these people. You carry their stories with you. And once in a while, when you are lost, you remember them and smile.
I do that, every now and then as I remember the toothed smile of the frail, little boy who happened to stop by my house on Deepavali.
In his eyes, shone a winter wonderland of hope, as he watched the hundred firecrackers light up around him and bursting into a million stars. He looked at them like they painted the stars in the sky.
I watched him as he cautiously made his way towards us, stepping over the stiffened grass. His eyes kept darting back and forth, fear profound in them. He had no proper clothes for winter – no mittens, no socks – he walked with bare feet. His shirt had a torn sleeve and his trousers barely fell up to his ankles. Yet, the cold didn’t bother him.
For minutes, he stood behind Dad’s car, watching us. Until, Dad spotted him and called him to join us.
I will never forget the sheer joy that spread across his face, the instant he heard Dad call him. For a moment, he looked around to see if he was actually being called. His smile was brighter than those million lights that shone in the cityscape.
He almost cried in joy when Dad offered him a phuljhari (a cracker). I had seen his lips quiver.
He watched in awe – lights, big and small, blue and red, white and dead – as if the world he was seeing was surreal.
The firework that went up at that moment – showering the night sky with showers of light – didn’t snap me out of my trance. I was too busy watching him clap his hands and jump up in joy.
It was strange – of how a thing as small as a cracker, could brighten up this boy’s life. Just because we lived a life so plentiful, did we forget to find happiness in those little things?
When the noises started dying down and every cracker was burnt, I saw his shoulders fall. A bittersweet expression clouded his face as he looked around and watched people retreat back into their houses. I wondered if it made him sad that the night was finally coming to an end.
Almost instinctively, I walked to him and knelt down before his tiny figure.
“You want more crackers?” I asked.
Slowly, he nodded his head, almost afraid.
I pushed the few packets of crackers I had been holding from the very start, into his little hands. At first, he was too surprised. Then, he smiled.
And his smile was so sincere and so beautiful that my heart swelled with joy. I remembered that there had been a few stray packets lying in my brother’s room.
“Wait here!” I told him. “I’ll bring you more.”
Perhaps I should have waited to hear his reply.
When I returned, hugging an entire box, he was gone.
Setting down the box, with scrunched eyebrows, I looked frantically, searching for him. I looked down the street but it was as empty as it had ever been. There were no noises around – no free spirited cries of the happy boy, no sound of thumping feet – no him.
To this day, I question myself – why did he leave? To this day, every year, on Deepavali, I wait for that little boy to stop by again.
At times, I think about him and find little tears prick at the corners of my eyes. At those times, I can only hope he remembers me, as well.