The streets were crowded, the stores were busy. The houses were decorated and the children were made to wear costumes. It was finally Diwali, the biggest festival in our small village. Potters, doll makers, weavers, painters all sat in rows on either side of the enormous stage. The stage was stood on by graceful dancers, singers, actors, and magicians.
Ma was busy welcoming guests to our house along with didi who smiled wide at everyone. I was called back home many times, though the house was the one place I did not want to be at this time of the year. “Touch their feet,” she whispered to me, with that infamous fake smile of hers. The guests spoke to me, asking about my school and my exams. But I barely listened to them. My attention was on the crackers I could hear my friends burst.
I ran out mid-conversation, barefoot- Ma shouting in the distance. “At least eat some kheer!”
Aunties were lighting the diyas on the rangoli, and I accidentally came in the way. “Careful, beta!”
My feet ran till I reached the source of the crackers. Amol bhai sat on the steps of his store, talking to kids. In his hand were two sparklers. I watched as one of them slowly shrunk in length. He noticed me standing and called me towards him. “Happy Diwali, baccha!” He handed me an unlit sparkler and lowered a candle to it, so the sparkler would light up.
I stared at the sky in awe as the sounds of the crackers increased along with the beauty. Families next to me were releasing lanterns in the sky. Young children failed to light the crackers several times because of their fear. Diwali had arrived, and I was the happiest person on the planet.
The sky blackened, the lights set the mood, and I was unwillingly pulled back to the house. We all sat at the table- savouring the ghee parathas- when the children outside cried with joy. “The tambola is starting!”
Hearing that created a frisson of excitement in me.
The tambola event was the main event of the day. Crowds of people sat on the cold floor while the host sat on the stage. The tambola played in our village wasn’t the usual. It was not a mere game that attracted the lot, it was the reward. In our village, we played with numbers up to 500. The game was very difficult to win, as the tickets each had 15 numbers only. The prize was 5000 rupees- enough to feed yourself and your family for a whole year. Everyone wanted it, but very few got it. Last year, no one won. The uncles threw the tickets in disappointment, mumbling things to themselves. The aunties consoled the uncles. The kids
got diverted pretty quickly from the game and didn’t take it to heart.
I was different. I wanted to play to win. I’ve always been competent.
The chair moved against the floor as I ran towards the door.
“Chotu!” didi called out.
“Aalok!” mom called out.
“Hai Ram!” grandmother sighed.
“Father…” I squeaked.
Father stood in front of me, blocking my way. He held my ear and began to drag me home.
“Father! Let me go, please!”
“Finish your food,” he said strictly.
I was only a little boy, but I felt my dreams of winning being shattered in front of my eyes. Even my puppy eyes wouldn’t work on father.
I was defeated this time. There was nothing I could do.
I almost gave up begging my parents till Amol bhai came along.
“Aalok! Won’t you come to your favourite event?” his voice announced his presence as he peeped through the front door.
“Aalok is eating now, beta. He won’t leave until he finishes,” my father told him. His anger quickly faded when he saw Amol bhai.
I, on the other hand, looked at him and joined my hands together. My eyes signalled to my father and I nodded to Amol bhai. I was secretly asking him to convince my father.
It seemed like bhai understood my message, and immediately turned to father. “Uncle, Aalok is a smart guy. He is full of luck. Tambola has been his favourite ever since he was only three,” he said.
“I am aware of that. But I must disagree with the luck statement. In all these years of his playing, he has never brought back anything but sadness and regret. What makes you believe in my boy now?”
“Merely the fact that he, himself, never wants to give up. He has a passion for winning in this game, and by not letting him go you are only diffusing the fire in him. This might be a game of just luck, but there might really be a chance of him winning this year.”
Father slowly nodded. “I am trusting you only because you are my close friend’s son and a good guy. Aalok, wash your hands before going.”
“Promise me you’ll finish your food when you come back!” mom added.
The excitement in me came back as I hugged Amol bhai and ran out. I bought a ticket for 1 rupee and sat down with the rest of the crowd. As the host kept going with the numbers, the smile on my face kept growing. I was ticking off all the numbers he was announcing.
“…439,” I jumped on my spot, gaining all the attention. “I did it! I won! Tambola!” I jumped around in joy while the host rechecked the numbers. When he nodded in confirmation, the crowd sighed in defeat. I speeded home, high-fiving my friends and Amol bhai on the way. “I knew it,” he winked at me as I passed by him.
When I announced the news at home, Ma ran to me and hugged me tightly. “Oh, my boy!” she cried. Father watched with a smile, accepting the cash prize. “You never fail to amuse me, my son.
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