There was only one diya.
Sitara turned the old cupboard inside out, but to her dismay, there was only one diya.
Diwali was here. She always lit three diyas. Always. Ever since she could light a match, and her mother allowed her to.
Her husband came inside, and saw the mess the room was in.
“What’s wrong, dear?”
She eyed him suspiciously. Could he have hidden her most prized possessions?
“Where are my other two diyas?”
He looked dumbstruck.
“I don’t know. Where do you usually keep them?” he countered.
She turned away and began to check the cupboard again.
“It was here. It was always here. Not one. Not two. But three diyas. The three things I care most about.”
He walked beside her, and held her close.
“Don’t fret. Let us go buy some new ones. It’ll be okay, Situ.”
She pushed him away and sat down on the bed.
“You don’t understand. Nothing will replace those diyas. Nothing! It’s not about new ones, it’s about what the old ones meant.”
He sat down with her, and pulled her into a hug as she broke into tears.
“It’ll be okay,” he said again, trying to reassure her. “I didn’t mean to upset you, Situ. Maybe they are in some other room. We’ll search and find them okay?”
And they searched. They turned every cupboard inside out. They climbed up into the dusty attic. The Diwali cleaning they had done that morning went for a toss. Yet they couldn’t find the missing diyas.
As she sat down on the couch, giving up on their search, he waited for her to tell what he was sure she would tell him.
“When I was a kid, there were no streetlights on our street. Mom… mom always lit three lamps on Diwali. Always. No one else did. They were all from other religions, so they never lit diyas. They didn’t see the need. One… one Diwali night, the power went. On that night, she hadn’t light any. Out of oil, she said. When she saw I was sad, she… she decided to go to the nearby shop to buy some.”
He felt her shivering, and sat down with her, held her hand.
“All… all I could hear after… a thud… a scream… her scream. I.. I could see Dad… he ran out… he threw the gate open and ran. I… I wanted, but my feet… my feet they wouldn’t move. I was crying… was calling out… calling her name. But no… no one heard me. The room spun… I don’t know when.. when I woke up after. Dad… he was holding… holding my hand. I was… in a white room. He said Mom was gone.”
He held her as she continued to cry.
“It’s okay. You couldn’t have done anything. It’ll be okay.”
“What… what if I hadn’t been sad? She’d… she’d not have gone. She might.. might be alive. Be with… with me. Paresh, I… I killed her.”
“Don’t talk nonsense, okay?” he said, shaking her hard.
“Maybe good people go to heaven first, dear. I know it’s a cliché, but it could be true. Your mother was a good woman, a good mother. She’s looking at you now, and feeling so damn proud. You’re a wonderful mother too, and you look after Anjali so well. Please don’t blame yourself. She wouldn’t want that.”
She looked at him, looked at him like she had when they first met. She gave him a watery smile.
“You’re right. I’m being silly.”
“No. You weren’t. You were scared. It meant… it meant so much to you. I could see that. Come. Let’s go buy new diyas. It’s the light that matters, not the diya.”
“Yes. Yes… we… we shall buy… new ones. But not… not today okay? It’s dark already. Today, I’ll light just this one.”
He let her go, and she got up. She walked to the washroom to freshen up, while he got busy rearranging the cupboards. When they were done, they heard the gate open. Their daughter Anjali was back from the neighbor’s home. She smiled as Sitara came out with the single diya, and headed for the garden.
She kept the diya on the Tulsi mandal, and closed her eyes. They prayed, and Paresh saw her smile.
When she opened her eyes, he smiled too.
“What?” she demanded.
“I can see three diyas. Your mom would still be happy.”
She looked surprised.
“One diya on the mandal, and two in your eyes,” he said, hugging her.
And at that moment, standing beside her husband and daughter, nothing felt lost to her.
She had found her light again.
(3rd Nov, 2013)