When October ended, I was genuinely displeased to not have made a friend in Kashmir, I felt bitter every time I woke up to crows cawing in dark Calcutta mornings because the alarm clock of the traveller kept going off inside me, I was too weary to go back to my text books, and I was exiled to days of forced dedication and unprompted squalor that constitute study leaves.
However, I soon grew to realize, what autumn in Bengal stands for.
A friend of mine posted a selfie of her family gearing up for a grand Diwali celebration, and that was when it was clear – Diwali was that one last lap of festivities that pulled our Puja-hungover heads out of the buckets of laziness and stuffed sweets into it.
On the 7th of November, after vigorous planning on a Facebook group, I set out to look for a needle in the haystack – which, in reality, looked like my car going round and round in Dum Dum Park for half an hour, trying to locate house number 501.
I had been asking people on the road for directions, a deeper problem waiting to pounce on the faulty compass of my memory – once I located Anirban da’s house, what if I was the first one there? What kind of conversation was I supposed to make? Should I draw up ten plans for our next Kolkata Bloggers’ interaction session, just in case I forget normal human speech?
I asked the tenth person on the road for directions. This time, a young man and not a rickshawallah, he looked promising. He proved to be of more help than I had anticipated. He said he was on his way to the same place, and got in the car with me. That was how I made the acquaintance of Sayan Biswas (whom I kept thinking was from school until a Facebook message the next day).
To my relief, Anirban da’s room was filled with familiar faces when I walked in. When I told him of my geographic plight, he simply said, ‘Have you never heard of calling?’
One by one, Rrivu da, a younger Sayan (actually a school student), Agnibha, and Anirban da’s friends from work, Surrbhi di and Harshit da, walked in.
Anirban da had maintained an Excel sheet of the guests he was expecting.
After a short chat, finishing off chocolates and awkwardly playing with a stuffed elephant, we made our way up to his roof with one hundred unopened sky lanterns in our hands.
I was made in charge of candles and matchsticks.
On the roof, while evening slowly shed its satin blue-grey shawl into a burnt darkness smelling of gunpowder, we were joined by Esha di, Koustav da and Debayan da.
Hence concluded the arrival of guests.
We waited, while Dum Dum Park’s houses erupted in early fireworks, for some kind of direction. We were not slow to get down to business. Thirteen of us manoeuvred the very first sky lantern, together. Most of us watched in the beginning, as the wax piece was skewered on the origin of the wire quadrant, and air was allowed to fill the paper body of the lantern. On being lighted, the sky lantern billowed and took form. Only halfway through our elation did we realize, that it had burned one side of itself, and had crippled itself for flight.
We were charged, rather than disappointed. We picked up our next conquest. It tried to give birth to success amidst all of us talking in excited apprehension.
Perhaps we were to work with the number three that night, because the third one flew. With the sky lantern, our enthusiasm and happiness took flight.
We grouped ourselves in threes, and attempted to let loose as many lanterns as possible. One after the other, trios released green, yellow and pink sky lanterns into the sky. Almost all of them rode parabolic paths up the tops of buildings, some threatened to collapse on peoples’ roofs, some settled themselves comfortably on nearby trees.
Esha di wanted Arjyak to be her flying partner because she very rightly asserted, that with his height, half the job of making the lanterns fly was done.
They were all successful, except the ones I managed. One curse or the other befell any sky lantern I managed – the wax fell off one, one developed a big burnt hole on its side, one had the fire run out and thus ruin the wax.
We used the fallen wax as principal fire for a while.
The younger Sayan nominated himself to be on candle duty, and I think the most number of sentences he spoke to me that evening comprised the following words: ‘I just remembered a joke… Eh, I’m not going to tell you.’
We moved from trios to duos and finally, each one of us released a lantern each.
We allowed ourselves a breather when the candles ran out. Anirban da went to bring matches and candles. Upasya sneaked off to talk to his vacationing girlfriend. Debayan da, Koustav da and Souranil set up their cameras, because they assumed very important positions when Anirban da came back.
The second half of the evening was the hour of photography – everybody wanted a sky lantern DP.
It was endearing, as the photographers had to shoot every single one of us, each other and take group photographs.
They ended up with beautiful photographs that shall commemorate the evening forever.
One by one, each of the sky lanterns, successful or no, were unwrapped. We gathered at the edge of the roof, calling out to the weaker ones, “Fly, fly, fly!”
I finally managed to let loose three of them.
While sweeping the wrappers and failed lanterns into one pile, I tried to measure how long the evening had been. To my surprise, by the reckoning of clocks, it was hardly a couple of hours. Yet, if calculated with respect to the fun we had, the hours seemed to stretch on far longer.
It was because of one rogue plan that we were thrown together on that roof that evening. We emerged, making jokes and laughing, like we had known one another for years.
We gathered around in the dark, trying to come up with a suitable hashtag for the evening – because with them, fun is never limited to time spent amongst ourselves; no, with them, they made sure that our good times are trending.
Everybody got very creative, suggesting titles fit to be splattered on cinema theatres with Jeet and Koel’s faces in them: “Mon’er manush, mon’er fanush”, “Mah fanush, mah rulez”.
Somewhere between mindless humour and tough attempts at seriousness, one title was floated, and it summed up the evening and the people perfectly.
We were, in fact, the very first segment of #100Fireflies.
Photographs by: Koustav Ghosh and Debayan Laha