“Ask not what your country has done for you. Ask what you have done for your country.”
He recalled the statement and immediately erased it. Karma! He blamed karma for the mess he was in. As usual, it started in a rather inane way. Saanvi was busy in the kitchen preparing sumptuous dishes for Diwali Festival, whereas Shen was relaxed on his favourite chair, doing a rather complex crossword in the daily.
“Here, taste this. Do I need to add more salt?”
Shen looked up lovingly at Saanvi and took a bite of the goodies offered to him. Everything was perfect. He grunted his approval and tried to grab the hand that fed him. Just to caress it and to kiss it. To express his love and affection. A surprised Saanvi jerked her hand. The plate in her hand shattered to pieces as it hit the marble floor. The goodies lie scattered as wounded soldiers, who will never see tomorrow.
“What are you up to? If you can’t help me with anything, at least don’t increase my work. Just sit there and don’t move. I don’t want to rush you to the doctor’s place for cuts and wounds. Imagine! On a Diwali Day! Hah…”
Shen tried to get up from the chair.
“Sit down, PLEASE! And don’t move till I clean up the mess.”
‘She who must be obeyed’ barked the command and Shen squirmed in his chair. He lost the interest in the crossword and the newspaper. Saanvi had an exhausted-looking face, with disheveled hair, part of which was covered with white flour. He wondered whether he should get up and hold her face in his hands. And then clean the messy hair. He dared not. He shut his eyes tight and prayed.
The whistle from the pressure cooker started him. He looked at the clean surrounding. Saanvi, in her different dress, was still hovering over the kitchen stove. Shen plastered the romantic smile on his face. His statement: “Hello, sweetheart. I must have dozed off” elicited no response. He ransacked his mind for a suitable gambit and drew blank. He wondered how long this cold war would last.
He got up slowly and ambled towards Saanvi and embraced her from behind. She stiffened and tried unsuccessfully to wriggle out of his tight hold.
“Now what do you want?”
“Just a smile from you, sweetheart.”
“Then behave yourself and please don’t increase my work. Now, let me focus on the tasks at hand. So much to do and so little time.”
Shen nibbled her ear-lobe and recited Rose Milligan’s poem (memorized specially for such occasions):
Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.
“You are crazy, please leave me alone.”
Saanvi hugged him back. The solid Rock of Gibraltar seemed to be melting.
“I shall quickly make Madras Filter Coffee, just as you like it. Here, let me take the mop from your hand and help you tidy up the floor.”
“Do you remember our first Diwali in Mumbai? The lights, the firecrackers, the fragrance of sweets everywhere. You and I sat on the old comforter spread on the floor, holding hands. There were no lights, no firecrackers, no sweets. But we had each other. Remember?”
How could they ever forget the First Diwali? Hiding feelings, each tried to be cheerful. They promised that their next Diwali would be much better and brighter. Wait and Watch. When the radio next door belted out the songs on Diwali, the dam of tears broke down.
लाखों तारे आसमान में, एक मगर ढूँढे ना मिला
देखके दुनिया की दीवाली, दिल मेरा चुपचाप जला
दिल मेरा चुपचाप जला …
“Honey, we have come a long way since our first Diwali. Let’s focus on the jobs at hand. I plan to hang the string of lights and then also the special Diwali lantern. Would you like to re-arrange the living room? Let me help you in organizing that.”
Saanvi’s favourite game was to re-position furniture every few weeks, whereas Shen loved the room as it was. Your sofa was comfy whichever direction it faced. So why bother? But that was HIS opinion, not HERS.
Beaming Saanvi pecked his cheek and moved out of his reach. Everything was normal.
Shen started mopping the floor diligently and pondered:
“Ask not what a Diwali has done for you. Ask what you have done for the Diwali.”