(These words were penned on the eve of Diwali, in appreciation of an oil lamp called a “diya”.)
Only during the festival of light do our lamps come out. We buy new ones every year, perhaps. Or perhaps, we bring out the old ones, for purposes of reusability and cost. And for tradition, after the rites and rituals have been performed, we take all the oil lamps we lit; all carefully counted, equalling some holy number; we take the oil lamps and place them all around the house, in every room, every bathroom and the kitchen and the larder, everywhere. There is no portion of the house without the lamp nearby, despite electric lights and despite the un-sleeping city’s glare bombarding us with blindness. But the oil lamp does not blind. The oil lamp is a soothing presence, casting its small fire’s warm glow all over the room, overpowering darkness so effortlessly. Diwali nights are special nights, where the entire country is without darkness – a declaration of triumph and celebration.
But there is darkness inside me, and despite some of my efforts, I have not been able to cast this darkness away. I would not call it my best effort, for that is a shame I bring upon myself and those who have taught me. But yet darkness remains, and when I am not alert, and when I do not notice, it creeps up on me. It creeps out from within, and comes out of my body only to re-enter it, and pose as an outsider, making itself known to me, declaring its enmity and emanating so much power that my head hangs from the force.
I am in a place known to me, yet it feels alien. Unable to bring myself to lay down where I usually lay, I come into the other room, looking for things to do, seeking purpose. The lights are off and there is darkness in this room too. But there is a single lamp here, and as I look at it, I acknowledge the warmth it spreads. I enjoy the warmth, but I don’t close my eyes as people would, because the warmth felt good, but it was incomplete without the light, as was the other way around too. I did not want to close my eyes because that would mean shutting the light out. I sat down on the bed, arranging my paraphernalia near me.
A little LED blink and the unmistakable sound of vibration means that my friends are messaging me. I message one back, telling her of the lamp, and how it has lifted darkness both out and inside, and how it has improved my mood, despite being a small thing. I talk to her a little more about other things, but also about the lamp. I tell her how I admire how it has been lit for so many hours, and I voice my fear to her of not knowing what to do if the lamp were to go out – if I could no longer feel its warmth. She said if that were to happen, then I should just turn the lights on. Such a simple solution! But I tell her that it is not as valuable. Electric lights drive the darkness away, and we take them for granted. With this darkness outside, it is easier to appreciate the light of the small lamp.
She then said that I should light another one when that happens, and I tell her that I feel it would not be the same. The thought was very unappealing to me – that something so warm and loving and precious, could be so easily replaced. That would mean that we haven’t given this treasure its deserved value, and that we’ve wasted it. I tell her that when this lamp goes out, it is dead. It snuffs out and with it, goes this small part of me, as small as the lamp itself. She said that I should pour more oil into it, and that would keep it burning for longer, and again my mind drifted to negative thoughts. Am I feeding the lamp and nourishing it with food, or am I pumping it full of medicine to keep it churning along long after it has lost the desire to live?
There is no wind in the room – the doors and windows are closed because it is cold out. There is nothing to fight the lamp, and he burns quietly, uninterrupted. There is no challenger, and the lamp makes no agitated proclamation that it is alive, but slowly burns its peaceful burning. I do not therefore know if more oil would be food or medicine, because the lamp gives me no indication. I’ve been given both a warm diffusion and a cold shoulder.
Against these thoughts, my friend tries to distract me, because she can see that I am once again over-thinking and not being alert that the darkness inside is welling up. She tries to distract me from the thoughts of the death of the lamp. And here I am thinking about its life!
She talks about other things, and my writing, and I get an idea! I would write now, while sitting in this warmth. I would write and I would chronicle my feelings of the lamp, and I would explore and celebrate the life of this lamp and make it immortal! In my experience, lamps placed in our house have lasted hours more, still burning in the morning after we’ve slept and woken up, greeting us with light still. The warmth is not longer felt because the sun, the largest lamp we have, makes the heat from the lamps seem inconsequential. But I would always wonder about the fortitude of the lamp to survive full nights of being lit. And now I am in a position to chronicle the life of one such lamp. I begin writing, and I note everything I have felt. I write about my conversations with my friends, and the thoughts we shared. I share my feelings about the lamp, which feels like an old friend – a friend I don’t remember, but recognize.
I tug at the vestigial memories of the lamp that are with me, and I have penned my feelings. I now get ready to explore the life of the lamp, what it was in its earliest form – where the mud came from to make it, where the cotton to make the wick was grown. As I contemplate these things and how I would approach writing them, I feel a draft on my hands, and the hair on my forearms stand on end. Because of the laptop’s screen light, I didn’t notice that some light had gone, but I noticed the warmth. The lamp has gone out. I…I don’t know what to do… I expected the lamp to last throughout the night and tell me its stories, so I could immortalize it in return for the warmth it gave me, and in the middle of its narration, the lamp breathed its last. It left me here, in the darkness, with the light of a laptop screen throwing cold, harsh light at my face, and herein I sit, with fingers not knowing what button to press, and a cold wind on my arms. I am alone in the darkness.