The festival of lights comes to most places in India with a BANG! Firecrackers herald the symbolic vanquishing of evil by good, dispelling darkness for swirling, popping, crackling light. It is certainly a sight to behold, and a sound that cannot be ignored.
Diwali has changed over the years, both externally in the manner in which it is celebrated, and internally in the manner in which these celebrations are perceived. As children we waited on its arrival with great anticipation. My sister and I were allotted a sum of money for our firecrackers and most years we would go down to Cheshire Homes on the old airport road and burst these firecrackers with the children who lived there. Upon returning home we would search the streets outside our house for discarded firecracker packaging, newspapers, dried leaves and those treasured crackers that hadn’t quite burst in the general chaos of our neighbour’s revelry. All of this would go into a giant bonfire on the footpath, into which the two of us and a few friends would throw fuse-less “atom” bombs and “laxmi” bombs with glee, running the other way with the manic excitement that only a child on a high can muster. The grown-ups would supervise our antics from the gate of the house, sipping their beverages, discussing inane grown-up stuff.
As the child became the teenager became the adult, the meaning of Diwali, and perhaps the occasions themselves that one wishes to celebrate, changed. Now I spend most of my time seeking spaces surrounded more by trees and less by houses, traveling roads used more by cows and goats and less by automobiles. And so, this Diwali found me in a quiet corner of Wandoor village on the southwestern tip of South Andaman Island. And it came and went in peace and silence.
The starlit sky at New Wandoor beach. South Andamans
This is not to say that we do not have our own fireworks display and reason for celebration. We do – almost every night. The last few have been clear, crisp and cloudless – a hint of winter’s nighttime chill in the air. In this quiet corner with its two lonely streetlights and the occasional farmstead lights winking through the leaves of the trees, there is no light bleeding into the sky from residential blocks, city streets and shopping centers. It is dark. And all the stars, in their twinkling millions, are visible upon the roof of this part of the world – a light display that is mesmerizing beyond measure.
What the camera sees with the shutter open for 30 seconds. New Wandoor. South Andamans
Occasionally a distant firecracker breaks the silence of the night. The forest critters around our dwellings freeze momentarily – the cicadas silenced by the disturbance, waiting to see what it might mean. A couple of dogs bark and howl in response – again distant, like a sound being heard through a wall. A few moments later the cicadas begin their social cacophony and everything returns to normal. The fireworks, however, continue on in the night sky, there for all to see should they choose to glance upward.
Painting the tree with the little led-light on my cheap-&-best Nokia cell phone. New Wandoor. South Andamans
I receive calls from my family to wish me on this auspicious occasion. Over the phone I hear a a constant rat-a-tat-tat of firecrackers bursting throughout the city. I’m told that my dog is petrified, curled up in a corner of my parent’s room, shivering. I smile for him – he’s a wuss and will be fine tomorrow – but cringe for all the dogs on the street that have no place to hide from the endless gunshot sounds and acrid smoke that will go on until dawn.
With my camera and tripod in hand I walk towards the forest. I follow a path that I know well during the day but which seems unfamiliar at night. I find the spot I’m looking for and set up my camera. I am alone, surrounded by giant trees silhouetted against a sky that is blanketed by stars. In the distance I can hear the faint laughter of the friends I work and live with – they have collected in the dining area for dinner. My family is well, and on their way to meet with friends in Bangalore city. I am getting ready to take an image that has been on my mind for a few days now.
All in all, there is plenty of reason for celebration.
Forest and starlight. North Wandoor. South Andamans