Now that Diwali's completely done, its festivities have become even more conspicuous by their absence. For the first time in many years, I didn't anticipate or prepare for Diwali. For the first time in adult memory, I didn't go to meet my relatives on New Year's Day with the customary boredom and dread weighing me down. In fact, this year, I was quite glad to see them. Indeed, it has been *that* strange a Diwali. This is primarily, I think, because the aftermath of a major fire at the workplace tends to make everyday a somewhat unreal experience. It utterly suspends belief in the daily.
For a month now, everything has seemed alien and somehow... distant. Buried in the soot, this is someone else's store and not the beloved space I've come to see as an integral part of everyday. This is a hot and dark space, reeking of smoke, ringing with the discordance of at least twenty different phones unmindfully blaring their own tunes. These are someone else's stocks that we work so hard to clean and sort. This is someone else's soot that we diligently scrub off from under our fingernails in the camaraderie of utter exhaustion. The dusty mall is unrecognisable. A once-bright corridor, now lined with black walls, opens out into a patch of dank, alleyway light. The children's play area just ahead is a garish, grotesque fantasy wrapped in red and blue plastic.
It is a weird kind of buffering, this sense of unbelonging.
Every evening, I leave the mall, walking at least fifteen minutes in search of a rickshaw. Ordinarily, I would have tripped over several right outside. Once I was on the way home, I would have caught up with a friend or with pending sms-es. I would perhaps have made plans for dinner. These days I sit silently, trying to reconcile my day. My head is curiously empty of the shop-floor buzz that I cannot decide if I love or I hate. I browse emails and cursorily make a few read — I have surprisingly few that demand any of my attention. There is nothing to look forward to at work, only an inescapable sense of violation. I actually miss that arsehole customer who publicly swore at me because I wouldn't let him copy poems from a book. My work phone doesn't ring with the madness of everyday. And that's when I finally understand that that is what I miss the most and what has changed the most — everyday.
It is easier, by far, to articulate this in the clear space of an empty store. There is more that I would say if I could but for now this will suffice. My book section children have been sent off to other locations while some others are still here. For me, I wait for instructions of which way forward. Things will be normal again, I know. The mall maintenance people work around the clock to ensure that they are as soon as possible. Until then, we will continue making ready.