‘Happy Diwali, Bauji!’
Ramendra Kumar recalls some beautiful memories of his childhood of Diwali celebrations that were sparkling times of innocence, fun and merriment.
Diwali unleashes a montage of memories: crackers and camaraderie, sweets and sentiments, lights and laughter, rituals and ruckus and lots more. However, the image that is most enduring and endearing is that of my father (Bauji) making the festival of lights sparkle even more with his love, charm and grace.
The first vignette in my stock of reminiscences is the Diwali shopping expedition which I undertook with Bauji and my sister, Gunjan. I was six and supremely excited.
As we entered the market I declared, “Let’s buy crackers.”
“No way, we’ll do the Puja shopping first,” Gunjan, who at 15, considered herself to be more than an adult, replied.
“No, we can do the shopping later,” I insisted, looking at Bauji for support.
“Shut up Ramen, you don’t know anything,” Gunjan snapped.
“Who says? I am also well read, (Ham bhi padhe, likhen hain),” I replied. Bauji burst out laughing and picking me up and hugged me. Gunjan too couldn’t help smiling and as a result, sparklers took precedence over shopping.
Bauji would repeat this remark of mine to anyone who would care to listen, on every Diwali, as long as he lived.
The Puja in our house involved elaborate rituals. When we were young Bauji would make all the arrangements for the Puja with Gunjan helping out and yours truly coming in between. This was the day when Bauji wore a dhoti and kurta, and looked very handsome. Once, the floor was still wet and he got up on the cot to wear his dhoti. When he was in the last stages of his rendezvous with sartorial finesse, I saw him and managed to click a photo. This still remains one of my most precious possessions.
When I was 18, Bauji handed over the responsibility of performing the Lakshmi Puja, to me. I really enjoyed it, more so because he would sit beside me explaining the importance of each and every ritual. After the Puja both of us sang bhajans. It was such a relief to know that there was at least one person in the whole wide world who sang even more tunelessly than me!
This reminds me that the first time the rocket was introduced in India was in 1970, soon after Neil Armstrong’s small step/giant leap episode. Since I was too small to handle a rocket, Bauji decided to experiment. However, due to a combination of inexperience and ineptitude the rocket instead of going up went at an angle and crashed into Bauji’s name plate on the gate. Which actually was a blessing in disguise since it badly needed replacement and Bauji as usual was loath to spend money on anything related to himself – except of course his precious daughter!
I lost Bauji a few years ago and did not celebrate Diwali that year. A year later too I wasn’t very keen. But somehow the tug was too much. I knew in my heart of hearts the festival of lights was special to us in more ways than one. He had been a forced bachelor and me too young to be married. We had thus lived with each other for more than a decade sharing and caring, fighting and making up, reaching out and drawing in. And never were these moments most pronounced than during Diwali. We would argue over the timing, quibble over the decoration, shout at the delay, crib over intrusions, sit together and pray, stand together and sing and then chuckle and chortle at our successful efforts at creating cacophony. Finally after the aarti had been taken I would bend down…. Before I could even touch his feet Bauji would pull me up with first his strong, and later on his frail, hands and hold me tight and hug me…..
“Happy Diwali beta,” he would say and invariably his eyes would be moist.
‘Happy Diwali, Bauji, wherever you are. This bhajan is for you… Without you it sounds almost tuneful…’
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