For the past week, our letterbox has been clinging feebly to the building wall, its sides twisted out of shape and blown outward, the flap dangling at an odd angle, the interiors clearly visible. From a certain perspective, especially at twilight, it looks aesthetic – a possible entry for an abstract-art exhibition under the title “Yawning Steel Maw Contemplates the Futility of Life” – but it’s no longer equipped to do what it was built for, so we’ll have to junk it and get a new one.
And all because late one night, some ruffian stuck a little bomb inside and then stood back watching as the thing exploded. This happens every year around the same time, and since the sound is always loud enough to make us spring up horizontally from our beds at 3 AM, we have come to see it as our annual Diwali wake-up call. Halloween has nothing on our Festival of Frights.
Diwali is said to mark Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya after his long forest-exile and victory over Ravana, and in keeping with tradition I spend my nights dreaming disjointed dreams about the missing letterboxes and postal misadventures that played a key but unrecorded role in Valmiki's epic. For example, the following little-known scene:
Flashback The Lankan monarch Ravana trembles to learn that an army of monkeys, bears and squirrels is marching towards his palace, growling and chirruping with great ferocity. Even worse, Ramanand Sagar is outside with a video-camera.
Ravana: Vibheeshana, what’s all this? Didn’t Rama get my note?
Vibheeshana: What note was that, bhaiya?
Ravana: The one where I told him Sita was being too querulous to have a decent conversation with and could he please send someone to collect her at the earliest.
Vibheeshana: Bhaiya, my spies tell me that some of the monkeys were playing around with firecrackers. They blew up Rama’s letterbox with the note still inside, so he never got to see it.
Ravana: What! Why wasn’t I told about this earlier?
Vibheeshana: I sent you a telegram as soon as I heard. Didn’t you get it?
(In the background, unseen by Ravana and his brother, two courtiers from the Lanka postal department exchange glances and giggle. Outside, war-cries, conch sounds and lugubrious tunes from the Sagar TV music factory can be heard.)
Thus a needless (and, one has to say, boring) battle was fought.
Note: most of the above never would have happened in the first place if King Dasharatha had succeeded in sending Rama a letter recalling him from exile after just a few months - but unfortunately he couldn't because the devious Kaikeyi stole his notepad. Just as well, because this would have made the Ramayana shorter and less dramatic (not that it’s a very dramatic epic anyway, especially compared to this one).
But back to the present, and letterboxes aren’t the only things at risk in our colony at this time of year. In our makeshift parking lot last Diwali, I found an unmonitored child carefully placing an anaar just beneath my car. “But uncle,” the blossoming terrorist said when pressed for an explanation, “iss se aapki car helicopter ke jaise ban jayegi.” I clipped him on the ear and sent him off, but it was difficult to get much sleep for the rest of the night. Troubled dreams came again.
Flashback 2 In the final battle, as Rama draws closer, Ravana tries to make a getaway in the flying chariot he stole from his brother Kubera (who was the God of Wealth, so it’s okay, he could always buy another one). Valmiki’s original draft included the following exchange between Ravana and his charioteer, now forever lost to human knowledge:
Ravana (in growing desperation): why isn’t this chariot taking off, saarthi?
Charioteer: Maharaj, the engineer forgot to bring an anaar to light under it.
Ravana (as the first of Rama’s arrows finds its mark): Aarggh, my leftmost head! (Falls, vanquished)
Joyous monkey: Yay, now we can go back home and invent a new festival. Back to the bridge, quick, before someone decides to use it as an alternate trading route. And don’t forget the firecrackers – I hear Ayodhya is full of nice letterboxes.