It only takes a spark

- Ashvin Oli
The neighbourhood was enveloped in the festive vibes of Tihar; only their house stood in stark contrast to the world as an epitome of gloom—asking its surrounding to make it smile

Oct 30, 2016-My grandmother sat in the dusty courtyard with bare feet, her thighs against her calves. She wore black glasses off centre that covered half her face. Every time she took a puff from her cigarette, her right hand revealed folds and creases against pale blue veins that ran across the elbow like tiny rivulets irrigating the whole body. An old, coarsely woven, frayed cotton Sari clad her body from head to toe. Beside her sat my grandfather, in the same posture, with his hands clasped together. 

My grandparents wore sullen faces that so vividly spoke of their loneliness. Together, they were lonely, with nobody to help them, to hold them, or to care for their now dilapidated house.

Meanwhile, the neighbourhood was enveloped in the festive vibes of Tihar. From where I stood, I could see roofs decked with shimmering red, green and yellow lights. Long columns of decorator light-bulbs tumbled down the balustrades as children romped in the yard. A contagious festive gusto wafted from every corner; but my grandparents and their house remained immune to it all. Their house stood in stark contrast to the world as an epitome of gloom—challenging its surrounding to make it smile. 

I wondered if it had always been this way. I wondered if my grandparents ever smiled in the past 19 years. 

 “Why don’t you sit down?” my grandmother said, and then called out for Shiva, my first cousin, to bring me a mat. Shiva was my paternal uncle’s daughter. Her step-mother refused to take her in after her mother committed suicide. Our grandparents had been taking care of her and vice versa for some time now.

 Just nine years old, Shiva was a very sweet girl. As she scurried outside with a mat in her left hand and a glass of water in her right, I noticed her beautiful blue-grey eyes gleam with excitement. She must have inherited it from her mother because dark brown eyes ran through our family. She spread the mat on the floor, asked me politely to take a seat, and handed me the glass of water. I was pleasantly surprised by my little cousin’s courtesy. When Shiva asked, “Dai, what took you so long to visit?” I was taken aback. I had an adorable little cousin who knew about me and I knew nothing of her. 

Before I could say anything, my grandmother interrupted, “Why don’t you sit closer?” I moved closer. With her old eyes, grandma quietly traced my face and studied every inch of it. My acne scars made me conscious right until I realised that she was trying to see reflections of my father in me. 

Soon she started anticipating my father’s arrival. My father, who was never known for his punctuality, was still an hour away. I would have been mad at him on a different occasion but today I was just glad that I could still ask him to bring in some lights along. 

It was almost six in the evening and far beyond the vast stretches of paddy fields in the west, one could see the red skies, and the thinly scattered clouds above them.

No amount of conversations could fill the gap between me and my grandparents, but I wanted to know as much as possible. 

“How is everything, grandmother?” 

“We are getting by. I can barely see your grandfather and I am too old to do anything at all. But, little Shiva is here to help. She is a very compassionate kid. If you ask me, we are ready to bid farewell to the world. We have seen all there is to see. ”  

Unable to make any remark to my grandmother’s response, I quietly sipped some tea Shiva had brought for me in between conversations. When Shiva asked me if I wanted to see her drawings, I couldn’t say no. In the small sketchbook that she brought from inside were cutely drawn pictures of her favourite yellow flowers —mustard and marigold. The marigold reminded her that she should weave a garland of marigold for me this Tihar. 

Further down the conversation, we talked about her school, which she mostly disliked, except for her drawing classes. In her spare time, she looked after our grandparents’ cattle and ran errands for the old couple. 

“Aren’t you scared of the big goats? What if they bite you?”

 “Goats don’t bite!” she said, chuckling. 

Sweet and already so smart—I could talk to Shiva all day long. Her braids, her cactus plant, her crayons, her goats-everything in her life excited her. It’s such a shame that my uncle gave her up just because his wife wouldn’t accept her.  

In my musings and interspersed conversations, I didn’t even realise that an hour had passed by and was woken up from a reverie when my father finally arrived with the lights that I had asked for. I saw a hint of happiness in my grandparents’ eyes as he greeted them by touching their feet. Shiva seemed very fond of him and I could see why. He had brought delicious candies for his little niece. 

While my grandparents were puzzled, I was glad to see that he hadn’t forgotten the lights.

“Can I put up these lights, 


“Of course, just be careful!”

As my father launched into a conversation with my grandparents; Shiva and I busied ourselves decorating the house. After almost an hour, we were done. We ran down the stairs and hurried towards the front yard to see how it looked.

My grandparents and dad were no longer talking. They were all gazing at the house. I joined in with Shiva. The house looked beautiful as long columns of decorator light-bulbs tumbled right down to the courtyard. The house looked alive as its roof flaunted shimmering red, green and yellow lights. 

I looked towards my grandparents; an arch of smile formed in my grandfather’s face and my grandmother’s eyes glistened.  

Sometimes, all it takes is a spark for magic to happen.

Published: 30-10-2016 08:21

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