The stray isolated crackers of Divali down here in Trivandrum takes me twelve years back to an evening in Mumbai when sheer terror seized me on the festival of lights.
It was evening and the condominium was celebrating divali with crackers. My husband Sunny got ready to go out into the Mumbai streets to see how the city was celebrating Divali. Normally, i don’t accompany him on these trips to “experience’ the real Mumbai which he said breathed in its vibrant streets flowing with humanity. It always fascinated him that the mighty city could accommodate the poor, the homeless, the middle class and the reeking rich, and he often went out on these expeditions to explore this city with ‘such a large heart’. I stopped accompanying him after a couple of trips ‘cos he’d send away the car and go about on foot, by BEST or the train. I found it too tiring - -
But on that day, i decided to accompany him. Cos, there was no vehicular traffic that day and the inhabitants of the foot path were bursting crackers right in the middle of the streets. I was afraid that in his fascination for the sights and sounds of Mumbai, he’d step on an exploding cracker.
I accompanied him and played my role as his guardian angel so perfectly that he decided to call off the adventure and return home.
We found our apartment empty, cos the children had gone out to where the condominium was bursting crackers. Ten minutes later my daughter Renu came home, cos her friends had gone to their home towns for divali and so she had no company. The three of us were talking over a cup of tea and snacks when the door opened and in walked Mathew with his eyes shut tight, led by two of his friends.
“Uncle, the crackers burst into his eyes”, his friend explained.
Something seemed to hit me real hard in the pit of my stomach and the impact was deadly. And then I felt my heart wrench itself out of the chest cavity and relocate to the skull to pound explosively there. I went numb all over and my thought process was suspended totally.
I became dead to the world.
“Open your eyes, Mathan, Mathan open you eyes’. I heard voices from some space i had taken leave of briefly, and they yanked me back to the sofa where i saw Mathew sitting, and Sunny and Renu bending over him and shouting down at him.
The numbness fled and a terrible sensation – fear, fire, terror? – coursed through my blood and i felt weak. My legs felt as though a ton of weight was tied to them and my mouth felt as parched as dry bones. Terror seized every inch of my being.
Next thing i remember was finding myself shouting along with Renu.
“Can you see, Mathew?’ i pleaded.
“I can, but i have double vision”.
“Oh, God”, i wailed, “What do we do”.
Sunny was already on the phone.
“Who are you calling?”, i shouted hysterically.
“Dr. Ratnaparkhi”, he threw over his shoulders.
“Wash his eyes with plenty of water but don’t rub. Do it till the car comes”, barked sunny, putting the phone down after talking to the doctor.
“No serious damage done”, said the doctor. Just superficial singeing. It’ll be ok in a couple of days”. Then turning to Mathew, she asked. “How did you manage get crackers into your eyes, my boy?”
“Yes”, i almost screamed. I was unwinding, and wanted to cry and laugh. “Yes, Mathew, that’s what i want to know. There were so many others and how come the crackers chose you eyes?” A bit too loud, i knew.
“Molly!” said Sunny sternly and i fell silent. I sat there and thanked God for taking care of my son. I vaguely heard him say that it did not burst, so he went examine the cracker to see what was wrong.
“And then it proved to you that there was nothing wrong with it, eh Mathew?” said the doctor smiling.
Sunny and i laughed, a little too loudly.
On the way back home, i lay back against the seat and felt drained. Thoughts, disconnected and irrelevant, drifted in and out of my mind.
“Instead of playing my guardian angel, you should have gone with Mathew”, i heard Sunny saying.
I said nothing. I was too exhausted to talk and as i drifted off to sleep, a voice seemed to whisper in my ear “Unless the Lord keepeth the city - - - - -