“Happy Diwali!” the father told his daughter, who was shrieking with delight and twirling as the sparkler spouted light from her hand. They placed a firework on the ground and lit it, and a shower of sparks fountained out, bouncing off the buildings lining the narrow alley and causing everyone to duck under cover. I stayed back and watched for a spell as crackers and fireworks exploded in the sky and streets around us.
Garlands of orange flowers hung over entryways, small candles burned in the entryways of almost every home and shop, streamers of light dangled down the walls of buildings. The streets of Darjeeling flickered with varying hues of light, illuminating the joyful faces of children and the contented smiles of adults. It was beautiful, and the communal sense of revelry reminded me of the holiday season back home.
I walked some more, hands in my pockets to ward off the chill night air. A young boy, maybe 14, raced past, but slowed to a walk when he noticed me.
“Fireworks!” he said excitedly, as if nothing else needed saying.
“Lots of fireworks,” I agreed, smiling in his direction.
We exchanged names, then he was off. “Happy Diwali!” he called over his shoulder.
I watched him run, making fake explosion sounds as he went. A cracker went off just behind me, soliciting an undignified flinch mid-stride.
After a time, I walked back. The street was less active, people having moved elsewhere, but still the boom of crackers split the night into fragments of mutilated silence. A dog raced past me frantically, whining as it took shelter in the entryway of a home, where it cowered as the world exploded around it.
Something smashed into the building in front of me and fluttered to the ground. A pigeon flailed on the pavement for a few moments before taking wing again, careening into the building across the street. In this manner, it pinballed its way to a small ledge, where several other birds huddled in terror.
The Chowrasta came into view, a haze of smoke filling it as Hindu videos played on the projectors. Young boys ran about shrieking, holding onto crackers with burning fuses as long as they dared before hurling the fireworks away. As I watched, a cracker exploded just as a boy threw it, sending him staggering away while clutching his hand.
Each unexpected explosion strained my already frayed nerves. My ears rang under the onslaught, and I found myself wobbly on my feet as my equilibrium was affected. About me, people smiled and laughed, but I was done.
I made my way through the booming streets, coughing from the acrid smoke, and closed the door of my home-stay. The explosions continued for hours.
What’s a festival you’ve been to recently? How was your experience? Did it live up to, fail to meet, or exceed your expectations? Let me know in the comments below!