Wiki says: “A ”’candle”’ is a solid block of wax with an embedded candle wick, which is ignited to provide light, and sometimes heat, and historically was used as a method of keeping time.”
When we were small, our days were marked by long hours of unannounced load shedding. Needless to say inverters or generators were things yet to be discovered or put to common domestic use. Those dark hours (if it were night) were spent sitting around melting candles throwing weak flickers of lights in rooms domineered by shadows. Families were large and playmates were easily found in siblings and hordes of cousins. Time would pass by in a jiffy playing Antakshari/Word Building/Guessing Games and other brain twisters.
In the meanwhile, the patriarchs would find it appropriate to blast the Government or play Bridge rowdily blaming each other and their partners for the wrong moves causing defeat or spoilers while the ladies of the house amused themselves with family or neighborhood gossips – who is going around with whom and who is expecting her second or third issue and such other entertaining exchanges!
The more enterprising ones, like my elder sis, would lit the wick and try a sly hand at planchette invoking the spirits, evil or noble, hovering in the troposphere, on the lookout for gullible humans, desperate to know what lay in store for them in the immediate future. That evergreen heart thudding question: does he love me or loves me not….or that breath stopping one: when will that TDH (Tall Dark and Handsome) Gregory Peckian styled heart-robber, jump straight out of the mushy pages of Mills & Boon, gatecrash into my life and sweep me off my feet …or a more puritan query: will I pass the Half Yearlies with flying colours? …or a calculated one: which way should I present that craftily stolen red rose (from the school garden) to my favourite teacher to bring a patronizing smile on her pursed lips and a doting glaze to her stern eyes freezing the same to permanency? Innocent, innocuous, insouciant time pass!
We always had a pack of candles stacked in the store room – it was an essential item for light-less exigency. Not only for the mosquito-bite ridden nights but also for certain soporific hours of the day when Father would light one in front of the house deity and pray or meditate. My roguish cousin made it a point to frighten me with eerie noises when we gathered to play The Dark Room. The lights would be turned off and special pains taken to ward off even a flicker of ray from outside. The unfortunate one amongst us, mostly me, would be designated to find the rest of the gang in that pitch, blinding darkness. If you were lucky you would soon stumble on one of the crouching lurkers; if you were not you’d end up flailing your hands around in vain and hoping after hopes for a streak of illumination. Suddenly, a match would be struck in air, a candle contrived out of nowhere and lit to catch red-handed your bamboozled expression amidst roars of laughter!
It was a common joke, or more respectfully speaking, practice, in our family to sing along “Aayega aane wala”, unforgettably Madhubala-esque style, followed by Waheeda’s goose bumpy “kahin deep jale kahin dil” with a spooky ooooooooooooooooooo Lata-lilt trailing the number, whosoever lit the candle first during the nightly load shedding ritual.
Well, candles came in handy in other times for other purposes as well. When a pin point had to be burnt to sterilize before needling into the skin to scoop out foreign flakes irritating the fingers, toes or heels! Today, for the littlest discomfort we prefer to rush to the nearest state-of-the-art nursing home or hospital.
As a child, I would love to watch a burning candle – how the molten wax, colourless and liquefied, collected in the hollow around the wick before percolating down drip by drip, sliding along the sides of the slender, tubular block of wax, cooling and solidifying as instantly into thin strips of stalactite-stalagmite like structures while stoically clinging to the length of the candle. Later, fingers would find great fun in breaking these outgrowths off the candle stick like crunches of crisply fried chips. The wax stuck to the fingers for long softening the tips into creamy mounds.
Candles were crucial in those cursed hours of lengthy black-outs too when the sovereignty of the State was under severe jeopardy. Yes! The 1970s!! We have seen those days of hushed worried tones, brazen black marketeering and an economy tottering on cracked heels.
Those were days of plethora of inconveniences and lack of information. Yet, we enjoyed a kind of loving protection within the folds of close-knit as well as extended family and kinship. Since then times have changed with a fierce rapidity. With the easy accessibility and proliferation of modern amenities, candles have been declared outmoded and bowed out of city life except to be used peripherally for lighting a diya in the temple or a cracker during Diwali. Paying heed to the call of time, the candle-makers beat a hasty retreat. However, in remote backwaters, where the agencies of governance have not firmed their political will towards electrification, candles, I suppose, are still very much a way of life.
Candles have lit peaceful processions of protest. Candles have been lit in tribute to the Forces who secure our borders from enemy insurgents. Candles have been lit in memories of martyrs who have laid down their lives for monumental causes and safeguard of rich legacies for posterity. Yes! Candles have maintained time and historicity. Much as Civilization is on a roll-back always. The cyclic order of birth-growth-flourish-decay-death unfailingly perpetuate. There are enough chances that sooner than later, we may regress back in time to the primitive state of nature – the jungle culture – as an aftermath to a rotten end! More so, as the country is endangered by its own men – the hoodlums anchored on political backing, patricians engrossed in selfish pursuits within the enclosed insulation of their ivory towers and pedophiles on a rampage raping five year olds with candles and plastic bottles; the chandler, once thrown out of business, may again be reinstated back with unexpected preoccupation but this time with a difference. Candles, the harmless time-keeper of the past, having now replaced deadlier instruments of oppression and torture with equal ferocity and savagery!
Disturbed I fold back the newspaper. Rinky, till now lying comfortably next to my feet, look up with questioning eyes. On an impulse, I draw her in a tight hug. Eventide, the streets would soon be deserted, mothers pulling back their daughters behind filigreed curtains as in ancient ages, girl-children disallowed outside the threshold of their hearths, unsure whether the man next door pecked their daughters’ cheeks with genuine fondness or fondled bestial motives on the secret. The beast on the prowl may have layers to him – an external visage of care and concern masking the murkier mala fide intents hidden thereunder. Who knows? Thus brews and breeds an air of distrust and doubt pervading the populace – a potent destroyer of the species – more lethal than a nuclear explosive.
While innocence lies lacerated in a hospital bed battling with death what does she have to look forward to but a traumatized future? After more than six decades of independence, the light has really gone out. We have snuffed out the candles with the crook of our palms, once a pet childhood game giving way to a regrettable certitude of hopelessness and faithlessness. The clipped wick has doused the city in shame leaving behind licking flames of horrified protest And however hard the law enforcers try to slap blankets over the leaping tongs of fire, the blistering blaze may soon devour the sleepy citadels of power and bring the roof down in no time.
Hope is an undying motivator. Cynics may implore us to see reason and understand the pluralist legacy of vote bank based politics. Notwithstanding, the intense love for our motherland would like to see the candle turn into a blazing torch igniting a horizon with expandable boundaries and not get stranded in a time warp.
Till then a bud nipped at its nascence wilts on a pristine sheet of clinical umbrage.
And we mourn a loss greater than that of life!!!!