By Monica Bakre
“Tell me, Daadi…why do you always wear dark glasses? Even inside the house?” asked 13-year-old Medha, as she sat cross legged at the foot of the bed her father’s mother was reclining on.
“That’s a long story, beta…” said Mrs. Arora, hoping that she could distract the teenager’s attention. “What is new in computers now? You tell me…”
“No, you tell me first…I never see you without your dark glasses. Why don’t you take them off?”, persisted Medha.
“Ok…come and sit beside me…I will tell you…But, do you promise to tell no one?”
“Yes, Daadi…I promise, I won’t tell anyone…”
“This was a long, long time back. Even before you were born.” began Mrs. Arora.
“That means, let’s see…more than 13 years?”
“Yes, about 15 years, you can say…”
“Something happened to your eyes?”
“Well…listen…”, the grandmother decided to sit up straight against the headrest of her bed and narrate the incident that she had never actually described in detail to anyone to date.
“It was Diwali night. Your parents were newly married. In fact, it was their first Diwali after marriage…a special Diwali…”
What Mrs. Arora went on to explain had Medha engrossed in picturing it all. It had been Diwali night, as Mrs. Arora had said. The whole extended family had gathered. Mr. and Mrs. Arora being the hosts, their two sons, Anil and Amit, with their respective wives, the elder one with his infant son, the married daughter of the house, Rima, with her husband, Ashish, his parents, and a few neighbours…it was a group of nearly 25. The newlyweds, Amit and Neha, being newlyweds, were being appropriately fussed over. Mithai was being passed around. Gifts were being exchanged.
Soon, it started to become dark. The whole three-storeyed building which housed the Aroras had already been illuminated with strings of tiny, bright bulbs that glowed like stars. The trees in the small garden outside were festooned with strings of little electric sparklers too, making the whole place resemble fairy land if there was one! Little mud diyas had been lit all along the compound wall of the house and it wore a beautiful, palatial, festive look. Happiness chorused from all corners of the household as women in new sarees and salwar kameezs bustled about, and children were all excited that their favourite festival, Diwali was here!
Presently, it was time to burst the crackers — a much awaited activity which makes the Amavasya sky resplendent with shooting beams of astonishing light emanating from sky bound rockets! Individual homes burst crackers as per their liking and budget, some of the time, people even drawing loans to celebrate this grand festival. After that, would be merry making which would last till the wee hours of the morning. In the rear courtyard of the three-storeyed house, the entire group gathered in two large circles, with the women and children forming the outer circle towards the rooms on the ground floor.
Cracker ‘rockets’ were sent reeling to the dark, moonless sky, lit ‘anaars’ throwing fountains of light in the air were displayed, and ‘phulzadees’ were lit to make most of the festival of lights that united the entire country in its gaiety and celebration. The Aroras had made special arrangements for music too! From loud speakers pegged onto the four corners of the terrace of the building, film music pervaded the air, occasionally getting drowned in the loud blasts of the crackers from their house and the rest of the locality. It was sheer joy in every corner of the house and every heart present there! It was Amit-Neha’s first Diwali as a couple, after all!
Mrs. Arora was standing behind her daughter, Rima, and son-in-law, Ashish. Beside her, stood her husband, who, with a slight heart problem could not really bear the ear-shattering ‘booms’, but had stood around, close to his bedroom.
All of a sudden, Mrs. Arora felt a piercing sensation in her left eye. It was momentary, and she saw something fall onto the ground, missing the edge of her salwar narrowly. She stepped back on impulse, and turned back.
“Oh, that rocket! Look, it’s here!”, she could hear a child’s voice as many more cautioned that no one go near the lit rocket that had crashed, having gone sideways instead of skywards, one of a rare occurrence, not impossible nonetheless.
Here, as Mrs. Arora retreated to her room, she felt as though her face was on fire! She felt a piercing burn in her left eye and pressing it hard, she rushed into her washroom and dabbed water on it. The pain and burning sensation persisted.She was soon followed by her husband and daughter, who took stock of the situation and decided to rush her to hospital right then.
“But, it will spoil everyone’s mood”, lamented Mrs.Arora, though she knew she needed medical help urgently.
“Mamma, we just have to go…here…I will tell Chhotu (the household help) to fetch a taxi fast…” said Rima, her daughter.
“But, it is Amit and Neha’s first Diwali, beta…how will they feel if we go to hospital now?” was the mother’s first concern.
“They need not know. In fact, no one needs to know. Papa, Ashish, you, and me will quietly go from the front door. Chhotu will be told not to tell anyone.”
And so, the four tense family members piled into a taxi and rushed to the hospital. No one noticed as they assumed that they might have retired to bed, it having become late. At the hospital, the staff on duty, specially posted to receive Diwali night casualties examined Mrs. Arora and gave the grim diagnosis that the impact of the rocket had been so severe on the cornea that the damage was irretrievable! For all practical purposes, she had lost her left eye forever.
The doctors addressed the problem with medicines and applied a huge bandage to her eye, asking her to return to get it removed, and the eye checked after 3 days.
“Now?” Mrs. Arora asked around anxiously, “what will happen if they see me like this? With the bandaged eye? Amit and Neha will be so upset. Their first Diwali will get spoilt because of me.” Mr. Arora was extremely touched at this mother’s concern for her son even in her moment of extreme agony and anguish. He wept openly as his son-in-law, Ashish, held him tight to his chest. The ever-resourceful Rima had an idea.
“I will take you and Papa to my house right away. I will go back and get your clothes. I will tell them that Papa wanted to sleep early and so I brought both of you to my house and that you will be returning after a week. No one will ever know and no one need know,” she reiterated.
And so…Mr. and Mrs. Arora spent the next week in their daughter’s house, their hearts with their family back home all the time.
A review visit to the doctor revealed that Mrs. Arora would need to shield her eyes from direct light for the rest of her life. She was given a pair of dark glasses which, ever since, had been her constant companion now for the past fifteen years. And…no one in the family, except Mr. Arora, Rima, and Ashish knew that Mrs. Arora was now blind in her left eye…
“Daadi….what are you saying?” Medha managed to mutter fiercely in her typical teenage jargon. She couldn’t move. Her heart froze with sorrow.
“You mean, my Mamma and Papa don’t know that you can’t see with your left eye? Not in so many years?”
“No, beta…I never told them, not anyone, in fact…not even when Daadaaji passed away four years ago…”
“But didn’t anyone ask you as to why you wear dark glasses in the house?”
“They did, beta…I told them that when I was at Rima Bua’s home that Diwali, the smoke of the crackers had dried out my eyes and so I have been advised to wear these dark glasses.”
“But…but… how come no one asked you in detail and saw your eyes themselves? No one asked to see the medical reports in all these years? How can that be possible?”
“There was no need, beta…Rima Bua was taking care of all of Daadaaji and my health matters anyway, always…Everyone else was very busy, na, beta…”
“Will you take off your dark glasses and show me your eyes, Daadi? I want to see…Does it hurt yet?”
“No, beta…it doesn’t hurt…and why do you want to see? You will not feel nice…I am fine…I have managed for so many years…I am okay…” Mrs. Arora reiterated.
Medha’s little mind was unstill yet. She, however, was too young to articulate how the stirrings of a new, strange, unsettling revelation were beginning to pulsate in her psyche’ ever so slowly…so definitely, though…an observation that would perhaps mould the way she saw the world as she grew…but she did not know yet…
Mrs. Arora broke her lost, faraway look just then.
“Listen, Medha…I told you because you insisted. I never, never want your parents to know that such a big disaster had happened on their first Diwali night. Not even after I am dead. It will break their hearts…they are my very, very precious children after all…”
About the Author: Monica Bakre is a qualified counselor/psychologist, with interest in reading, writing, cooking, music, and pets. She describes herself as an observant, absorbing, thinking, speculating, and sensitive individual.