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Rita Mukherjee

Rita sent us this short story for Diwali, here is her story and what she says about herself!

Rita Mukherjee lives in Mumbai with a very foul temper, one husband and one daughter.In between living life she loves to juggle with 26 letters of the alphabet and most times weaves story patterns in solitary splendour. Some of her stories have found their way to web pages and also been published in newspaper/magazines.She loves children and one day through her stories for them Rita wants to be immortal like Aesop or Enid Blyton.

ONCE UPON A DIWALI

I am from Ahmedabad, Sumi began as she narrated her tale to me. My favorite mama was Biku Shah He was my mother's youngest brother and lived in a small town in Gujarat. Both of us were extremely fond of each other as we shared the same interest and taste in almost everything. Bikumama and I were fond of Gujarati plays, loved to listen to old Hindi songs, play the sitar and both of us loved to write.

Biku Shah was a very successful diamond merchant but secretly he yearned to be a writer. Nothing gave him more pleasure than to sit in his study at the end of the day and fill pages and pages in his diary. In his diary he wrote the history of his life. He wrote of his childhood spent in Palanpur, his marriage to Kaushalya at the age of nineteen and the birth of his sons. In short all of life�s ups and downs were neatly recorded in his eechha/mahaeechha or roughly translated desire and great desire book.

Biku Shah loved children, his huge family and his large number of friends. Every year Diwali was celebrated on a grand scale at his house. There was a grand Lakshmi puja in the morning followed by a scrumptious spread for lunch. All day long the servants would be busy setting up earthen diyas (oil lamps) along the terrace, verandah, windows and the surrounding compound wall and gate. In the evening each guest would light a lamp before taking leave of Bikubhai. However Bikumama's Chopada Pujan (where all his accounts registers and financial documents were put on a special wooden patla (stool) and worshipped) was never done without his favorite niece Sumi being present. Even after Sumi�s marriage and subsequent shift to Mumbai this was one ritual that Bikumama carried on as before. Sumi too never failed to show up for her Bikumama's Chopada Pujan each Diwali.

As years went by, the more wrinkles he added to his face, the more relatives and friend Bikubhai kept losing to other cities, by way of marriage, job opportunities and even mass exodus to America and Australia. Just as his friends disappeared so did the diyas and pujas during Diwali. Electric bulbs and loud noisy firework displays and cold commercial parties at five-star hotels replaced these.

Paradoxical as it may sound the more progress made, more communication facilities available the greater the reduction in Bikubhai's world. Widening of roads in the area reduced Biku Shah's compound to one-fifth it�s size. The trees were chopped down, the boundary wall raised to avoid dust from the increased traffic on the newly built road. Bikubhai was exposed to the winds of change. His wife died, his relatives dwindled his world shrunk and he grew more and more lonely. Now it was the servants rather than visitors and friends who lit the diyas in the house, once teeming with people.

On the more positive side Bikubhai's business, now handled by his two sons, flourished. Both his sons settled in Antwerp and Israel, did their father proud. Unfortunately,they rarely if ever visited him or even wrote letters to him.

Even after marriage, however difficult it was to get away I never let Bikumama down. Said Sumi pausing for breath.

I used to reach the house and find Bikumama in his crisp white dhoti waiting impatiently in the otala (verandah).

He would query irritably, 'Why did it take you so long?' Then giving Sumi a tight hug in relief Bikumama would pretend to be jealous of her in-laws and ask, 'Sasu, Sasura ne seva baraber karine avya?'(I hope you have looked after your mother and father-in-law properly before coming?)

Then Sumi and Bikumama would sit on the large swing and reminisce about Kaushalyamami's wonderful bharda marcha (Stuffed chilly pickle) and gattias (Gram flour savories)

In a conspiratorial whisper Bikumama would tell Sumi �Maharaj ne bole choo (I have told the cook) to pack up some basundi (a typical Gujarati sugar, milk, rice and pista sweet) and mohanthal for you to take along with you when you return to Mumbai

Just so that Bikumama would not feel less loved and demoted from her affections Sumi had presented him with a computer some time ago.

'At least we can write soo che/saru che to each other without you having to bother Maruti (the servant) to run to the post office or buy you stamps.'

Slowly and reluctantly Bikumama had learnt to use the 'peti'(box) as he called the computer. Every Friday (he knew Sumi had more time to open her Email on Saturdays) Bikumama would pour over the keyboard and slowly with stiff arthritic fingers send his beloved niece events and thoughts he would have gladly liked to voice in person. As his skill on the keyboard/monitor combo grew Bikubhai seemed to grow more lonely and withdrawn.

He kept consoling himself for the lack of company with the thought that the weekly exercise was at least good for his arthritic fingers. Old and more lonely now, Bikumama seemed to live from one Diwali to the next looking forward to his niece�s visit. Sumi seemed to refresh and revive his memory of happier Diwalis gone by when the whole house used to reverberate with the noise and bustle of people.

Last Diwali Sumi failed to visit her Bikumama. Busy with her clinic (Sumi is now a very successful gynecologist in Mumbai) she decided to skip her annual visit to her uncle. She removed the pangs of guilt she felt by deciding to scan and send Bikumama some pictures of the festivities carried on at her in-laws house that Diwali. She made a note to send pictures of her son Rahul�s engagement ceremony especially the one in which Radha (her son�s fianc�e) is seen wearing the sari Bikumama had sent her as shagun (blessing) as he was unable to travel due to his arthritis worsening that year.

The morning after Diwali Sumi sat at her computer to write to her Bikumama and this unfinished Email greeted her.

Kem cho Sumi,

I am sure you had a grand Diwali. This year it seems even you have decided to 'delete' your Bikumama from your list. I waited for you all morning and then told the priest to leave. I could not bring myself to perform the Chopada Pujan without you by my side. I was so sad that you too have deserted me.

It seems not only Sumi but even life decided to 'delete' Bikumama that year.

We invent machines to save us time and make our chores faster, quicker and easier to do. Yet we fail to make the time to reach out and hug someone or reassure with our presence, the many Bikumamas of the world, that we do care, we love them very much indeed.

This Diwali let us reach out with our presence, with warmth and care and make some lonely hearts glow with happiness. Isn�t that what a diya or a candle is supposed to do dispel the gloom from our lives?

Have a happy Diwali