The day dawned dark and gloomy, with intermittent downpours of rain punctuated by a warm, heavy stillness uncharacteristic of this season. I woke up and reluctantly got ready for work. Rainy days make me want to stay at home.
Outside, the world was not altogether dull and gray as one would expect on such a day. It is almost the peak of fall, and the trees are displaying some magnificent foliage. The maples, the oaks, the cherries, and others that I do not recognize, are all looking bright and colourful. Each tree is painted in its unique hue ranging from yellow-green to flaming orange and beet red. The roads, the sidewalks and the grass lawns lay covered with a checkered quilt of fallen leaves. The cars were covered in shiny glass beads, large raindrops that were just a little too small to roll away and fall to the ground. As I drove to the university, I turned on my mp3 player which is connected to my car stereo, and was soon lost in a wintry evening of long ago in a far off place called Vermissa Valley, also known as the Valley of Fear.
When I was growing up in Allahabad, this was one of my favourite times of the year. For most people staying in West Bengal, the ending of Durga Puja means the biggest festival of the year is over, and this season comes with a sadness and a longing for the next arrival of the goddess a year later. In north India, however, the biggest festival is yet to arrive, and every house is being prepared in some way or other for the occasion. Some people have their houses painted, while others simply clean their gardens and make the house look better. Everyone decorates their house with strings of lights, and houses with lights grow in number day by day, until on the day of the festival, every house on every street is outlined in lights. Diwali is not all about Chinese electric lights, of course. It is also very much about tradition, and small earthen lamps called diyas are used for lighting up the houses on Diwali night even today. The flickering little flames of diyas in a row look much better than any electric light could. And of course, then there are the fireworks, which are burnt by all to light up the night sky and scare the life out of animals, birds and evil spirits.
But I digress. I am far away from the Allahabad of my childhood, and although Diwali is indeed a week away, there are no preparations to be seen in this country for that festival. Besides, when I talk of Allahabad and use the word today, I actually indicate a time period some eight years in the past, so the accuracy and relevance of my description is doubtful anyway.
I reached the university and immersed myself into work. The rain beat relentlessly at my fourth floor window all day, occasionally with enough ardor to make me look up. Sometimes I looked down at the road below and saw people walking about with colourful umbrellas. I had my lunch sitting at my desk. Occasionally chat boxes would open up and friends would write a line or two. Most seemed to be asking what my day was like and what I was planning to do later today. Morning became afternoon and afternoon rolled into evening. I put my laptop inside my bag and walked out of the building. The rain had stopped, and the sky was even clearing up a little. I took my car out of the parking lot and headed home, listening to The Valley of Fear once again.
As I drove through the winding streets of Old Town Fairfax, I realized that although Diwali was not imminent in this part of the world, the houses were being decorated here as well, albeit in a different manner altogether. Although Halloween is a good two weeks away, some houses had put Jack-o-lanterns at their front doors, and others had spooky decorations and scarecrows on their front lawns. I made a mental note of buying a pumpkin on my next visit to Walmart. I wanted to carve it and make my own Jack-o-lantern too. I also wanted to put up some lights for Diwali on my balcony. Probably I'll do both during the coming weekend.
On reaching home I found a large box at my door. It was the suitcase that I had ordered online a couple of days ago. Then I spent some time reading, before cooking and eating my dinner. Then, as I was having my usual two-mile walk around the apartment complex, my friend Shreevallabh and his wife Snehal came to my house with the cake and the gift card.
In case I hadn't mentioned, it was my 33rd birthday today.
So then I cut the cake, and we had a piece each, and we sat down and chatted for three quarters of an hour. This was the special ending to a day that was perfectly ordinary in every way.
And after they had left, I arranged the cake and the gifts on the table and took a photo. The much drooled-over Humans of New York book had arrived yesterday from Atreyee and the Great American Short Stories was something I gifted myself. After all, however ordinary the birthday may seem, one does not turn 33 every day.