There was a sudden stillness in the night. A suspension of sound. Even the pernicious hum of traffic on the highway about five kilometers away had died down. Beena came out on to the balcony to ask if we wanted more tea. She gave me a wink standing behind Branku and made a circle with her thumb and first finger as a ‘go ahead, right choice!’ signal. She even made a gesture advising me to bolt the door.
I ignored her innuendos and asked her the reason for the sudden stillness.
“Everyone is performing pooja, prayer, before lighting the oil lamps and exploding the crackers. If you wish you can come downstairs and pray to goddess Laxmi and Lord Ganesha. This will bring you great prosperity , money and make your life trouble -free. “ she winked again as if to indicate the prime catch I had already made in Branku.
“Maybe later” I said to her and she went away with a conspiratorial smile. Branku seemed to sense the message sent by Beena. He brought his chair closer to me and kissed me abruptly. He kept his face near me waiting for me to respond. I pecked him back and told him to hold his horses.
He found that very funny and kept laughing for a while. We saw that suddenly people were arriving on the roof tops of all the houses surrounding the park. They were lighting candles and little oil lams with wicks and placing them on the parapets.
‘Let us also light some candles. It is auspicious, Beena told me.’
Branku got up reluctantly. On the landing leading up to the roof someone had decorated a steel tray on a table with colourful images of Laxmi and Ganesha. They had been graced with tiny garlands of marigold. A big earthenware lamp filled with mustard oil and with four thick wicks was lit. Someone had placed coins and sugar candies in the middle of the steel tray or thali. Someone would keep charging the lamp with oil throughout the night. It would be Beena I supposed. She was a Christian but her Christianity included all the customs and traditions of ancient India. There was no taboo on idol worship. As Always India had changed a religion and adapted it to its ancient traditions. It was a very tolerant nation as long as some politicians did not stoke the fire of communalism.
It was a festive mood up on the roof. All the residents of Antriksh were decorating every possible visible spot with candles and diyas. So was everybody on the neighbourhood roofs.
About fifteen minutes later all hell broke loose.