A little girl of only nine is walking through the streets of Chandigarh. Her pink frock is flapping in the nippy air as she strolls lazily, occasionally changing hands to carry the heavy, jute bag. Her haggard, blue sweater looks too large on her tiny frame but Maa had said that it would protect the little one from the cold as it had protected her. So, the little girl wore it with all her pride throughout the year and found solace in its warmth. This blue sweater was her mother’s hug as this blue sweater is all she had of her mother now.
The sun is about to set and the sky wears a pink glow. The bag in her hand still feels as heavy as it did at home. A visible worry clouds the little one’s face as she looks into her bag. Not even one packet of phuljhadis (squibs) has been sold today and father was sure to give her a good thrashing. Yet she prods on with her heavy bag, dragging her gout slippers, as her feet turn blue in the icy night.
The streets are getting deserted now and the climate, colder. Should she go home to her father’s beatings and drunken blabber to beat the cold? But, home was cold too with father seizing the only two blankets of the house. Her heart decided the better of it as she found a bench on the street, right opposite to the big, marble house. She settled in with her bag and wrapped the large sweater tighter around herself as the night grew darker by the minute and the air nippier.
The big house resembled a palace with the fairy lights and the vibrant lanterns. It wore the ultimate Diwali look. The green grass of its garden sparkled under the lights on the trees and the door looked inviting owing to its garlands. The little girl sat on the bench, smiling to herself while enjoying the play of the fairy lights. But, the smile was soon washed away by the unforgiving cold.
The incessant shivers coax the girl to light up one phuljhadi to get some warmth. She lights one up with father’s fear in heart. But as soon as the stick burns with full fervour, the little one heaves a sigh of relief while warming her hands over the burning squib lying on the ground. She lights another one and then another one while walking around the street with blazing squibs in her hand until she lands at the window of the big, marble house.
She lights yet another stick and looks into the house. The table looks like one on the television, stocked with sweetmeats. The laddoos look delicious with tiny cashews sitting on top of each one. The jalebis look fresh and crispy-fried, dripping with sugar syrup. The earthen bowl filled to the brim with phirni looks enticing as the garnishing of saffron strands contrasts well with the white, milky sweet. But, the dark night suddenly puts the curtain down on the show as the squib gently fuses out.
The little girl now sits down on the damp grass and plays with the squibs. She lights one more for the much-needed warmth and what she sees now is unbelievable to her eyes. Is that her Maa with a laddoo in her hand? The squib suddenly fuses out again. She walks a little closer to where she had seen her Maa and lights one more. There she is again. Looking radiant in a white saree with a red border. Her hair is neatly tied up in a bun at the nape of her neck. The heavenly fragrance of tiny white blossoms around her hair bun freshens up the atmosphere. The bright, red bindi on her forehead is almost blazing with a fiery vibrancy. And, suddenly again, there is just the black night and the burned out stick in the little girl’s hand.
“Take me with you, Maa. I am so cold. Hug me, Maa. I want to be with you,” she calls out in the eerie night while lighting up the last squib.
“She must have burned the phuljhadis to keep herself warm, I guess,” one said. “Bechari must have died in the freezing cold night,” said the other.
But, nobody will know the picturesque show that the phuljhadis got her and no one will ever know that she is now in a beautiful place with her beautiful mother.