Some incidents of our lives always remain fresh.
We smile, chuckle or guffaw thinking about the incidents even after decades.
This Diwali I will again think of some incidents related to the festival. Some incidents will make me laugh and some reflective.
For me, the funniest Diwali incident that took place around 30 years back is related to Uncle Kapoor. He was in his thirties when I saw him for the first time. His appearance was a cross between Amitabh Bachchan and a hippie.
Uncle Kapoor was tall and lanky like Amitabh Bachchan. He always wore a red shirt and black flared trousers. He would never tuck his shirt. Like a hippie, Uncle Kapoor had long hair up to his shoulders and a black, flowing beard.
Uncle Kapoor set up a kiosk in a corner of the playground in front of our house. He started with comics, kites and marbles. He later added bread, eggs and butter to his stocks in the shop. He also started selling pencils, pens, nibs, ink (we wrote with fountain pens in school), and notebooks.
Uncle Kapoor would also sell firecrackers during Diwali. Children would look at his firecrackers lustfully thinking he would be the happiest man on the earth bursting all his unsold fireworks on Diwali night. Uncle Kapoor would shoo away the children who would watch his stock of firecrackers but not buy.
Two types of firecrackers are popular during Diwali – one that produces a loud noise and another that produces light. The ones that produce a bang are colloquially called bombs.
One Diwali night, Uncle Kapoor decided to burst a bomb that was too big in size compared to other bombs. A group of children stood a some distance, watching his every action. He lighted the fuse, ran up to a safe distance and turned around to see the bomb exploding.
The flare lasted for a couple of seconds and then died out. He looked at the bomb. It seemed to have become useless. But Uncle Kapoor was not a person who could think of losing a bomb; even if it meant putting his body or ‘sensitive parts’ to risk.
After some time, he went towards the bomb. He crouched when he was close. He could not dare to pick the bomb. He kicked the bomb and it rolled on the ground.
The bomb did not explode and Uncle Kapoor became braver. He extended his hand, slowly lifted the bomb and held it at a safe distance. Nothing happened. He stood up and looked at the bomb. He saw the ash of the fuse on the bomb. He tried to dust the ash away with his hand. The ash got stuck to the bomb. He blew at the bomb to clean the ash little knowing that the part of the fuse inside the bomb was still glowing.
Uncle Kapoor’s blow acted as a catalyst. The bomb went off on his face. Uncle Kapoor stood motionless like a statue, unable to see or hear anything for at least two minutes.
My father returned from a tour of West Germany just before Diwali in1985. He had brought back a lot of unspent Deutsche Marks and we became ‘moneyed’ for some days.
‘I am not going to listen to any of the excuses you gave last year while buying firecrackers. I want a lot of firecrackers this year,’ I told my father a couple of days before Diwali.
My father agreed.
We went to a firecracker stall and bought at least a dozen pieces of every firecracker available in the shop. The shopkeeper handed gave a bill of Rs. 83.
My brother and I kept on bursting firecrackers throughout the Diwali night but still our stock did not exhaust. My brother was too tired on the following night. I burst the remaining firecrackers and still much was left to last for another two days.
I developed an aversion for firecrackers.
Last year I went to a firecracker stall, picked up a fountain and asked the shopkeeper, ‘What’s the price?’
‘Rs 85, sir,’ replied the shopkeeper.
‘Rs. 85 for how many fountains- half - a-dozen or a dozen fountains? Not very costly, eh,’ I remarked.
‘Rs 85 apiece, sir,’ said the shopkeeper.
Times, no doubt, have changed.
A confectionary store that turned into firecracker stall before Diwali was our favourite place for buying firecrackers. My father found the confectionary store owner amiable and honest (I had doubts about the second quality of the confectionary store owner.).
I stopped accompanying my father for buying firecrackers as I grew up and did the Diwali shopping alone.
As children we would buy firecrackers at least a couple of days before Diwali. To remove dampness from the firecrackers, we would spread them out in the sun on the following days.
But with age, bursting firecrackers became a formality.
One Diwali evening I went to the confectionary store turned firecracker stall and found the amiable and honest man a little tipsy. Perhaps he had done a good business throughout the day, was tired and taken some rum in the evening.
I selected the firecrackers and he gave me a bill of Rs 310. I gave him Rs 500 note and was not able to count the money he returned due to the crowds there.
Back home I found that he had deducted only Rs 210 for the firecrackers. I decided to return the extra money on the following day. But for me, the following day never came.
Around three years back, by chance, the confectionary store owner’s beautiful niece became a good friend of mine. Three years is a long time but still we are – ‘just friends’. I dearly wish that the relationship should at least now move ahead.
I told the friend how I had unintentionally cheated her uncle. Light-heartedly, she replied, ‘You duped my uncle of Rs 100. Now return double the amount.’
I wanted to tell her that I can return 100 or even 1000 times the amount if that made her happy and she would consider advancing the relationship between us. But I was not able to say anything and still remain single.