As if on cue, his memory recalls a joke they had cracked that night. Then he laughs aloud, all alone...
It was on Diwali day that Anil fell in love with Sakina Shaikh. She was his friend Akbar’s sister. Although he knew them for a while, he’d never really got acquainted with Sakina till the night before Diwali.
It so happened that Anil’s mother needed a helping hand to clean the house, prepare mithais and savouries for the traditional Diwali puja. The housemaid had taken off to her village and Anil had casually asked Akbar to send someone over to assist his mother.
When she rang the doorbell and asked for his mother, Anil was surprised. He had expected a maid, but there stood Sakina in a pair of worn out jeans, faded T -shirt and a broad smile. Anil’s mother was embarrassed about a Muslim girl’s presence in a traditional Hindu bastion, especially on a day like this.
But the need of the hour was greater than any reservation. So the young Muslim girl, Sakina, began cleaning the house and dusting the cobwebs. To avoid any awkwardness, Anil’s mother asked him to supervise the proceedings. With brooms, dusters and mops, they collaborated to clean the artifacts, dust the furniture and polish the floor.
“Do you know Ravana used his centre head when he spoke? The other nine merely echoed the voice of that centre head. Sita developed a hearing disorder after listening to their echoes all the time.”
She spoke softly but her voice exuded a strange authority. Anil burst out laughing at this silly yet funny comment. “Be quiet. This is a Hindu household, you might get into trouble,” he mocked.
There was an innocence and dare in her, which he found attractive and charming. The entire cleaning operation was laced with jokes about gods and goddesses and other inane conversation. Soon a bond developed between them.
By dawn, the house was sparkling and ready to welcome the gods and goddesses. That night, Anil’s heart too had a transformation. It was spring cleaned by the charm, innocence and wit of his friend’s sister. A year later, they had a simple registered marriage. The world constantly peered upon this union of disparate cultures and beliefs. But nothing changed between them except that now a photo frame of the Holy Kaaba, gave company to the photo of Lord Ram who stood looking impassionate from a golden frame on the wall.
They enjoyed marital bliss, defying statistics, critics and predictions, till one day Sakina was diagnosed with cancer. She fought bravely but eventually succumbed.
Her last words to Anil were, “Your Lord Ram needs me for some spring cleaning because he saw the thorough job I did in your house that night.”
Every year, the night before Diwali, Anil cleans his house in an attempt to recreate that night when a divine intervention struck in the form of Sakina.
He goes through the same ritual of dusting and cleaning. As if on cue, his memory recalls a joke they had cracked that night. Then he laughs aloud, all alone.
In the morning, orphans from the neighboring Muslim orphanage are invited to a feast at his house. Then they burst crackers, overlooked by the photo frame of the holy Kaaba and its neighbour, Lord Ram looking impassionate from the golden frame on the wall.