I am assigned to watch. Watching out for the thieves who come for the traditional stealing of lamps. It is a tradition to steal lamps and children find great fun in cheating the eyes of the watcher to steal a lamp. These lamps are not greatly money worthy. They are just mud lamps. Some people store them, well most people store the left ones, but do not worry if they break. Buying some just before kaarthihai doesn’t cost too much and it also brings some smile on the ladies’ face when they bring some new lamps for the new season. Stealing many lamps and good collection is not going to take it anywhere. Those lamps may not stay for the next season, but children find the game fun filled. Watching is traditional too. Not letting any of our lamp stolen gives a feeling of great victory too. It is great fun too. I somehow did not develop skills in cheating and stealing so I prefer to watch. Senthil finds great joy in running around and stealing these lamps. There are six lamps, two for each padi (entrance stair) on either side of the padi. I sit on the top padi, moving one lamp slightly inside to make room for me. Seeing these winking lamps flirting with the wind is joy too. Every house has at least six lamps arranged in the same manner, as most houses have three padis as their entrance stairs. Some have some extra lamps on their outside windowsills too. It looks nice too. Small boys are running like crazy playing their fun game of the day. Small girls are assigned to watch, as they sit pretty in their new clothes with twinkling illumination breezed on them by these flirting lamps. Men and women do not seem to show interest in this game.
Here he is, Senthil brings two lamps. “Akka, look I have got two lamps”. His palms are soaked in oil. “Wasn’t the oil hot?” I ask. “Yes it was. Take it. I have to run”. “Don’t go. Hot oil will hurt you. Do not steal lamp with oil in it. Throw the oil away before taking it”. “Yeah right! Do you even know the art of cheating and stealing and its time calculations? She is telling me to throw away the oil first. Ha ha.. They will come and grab me if I stayed there for more than a fraction of a second”. He is laughing hard. “Then don’t steal. What is the fun in this? We do not keep these lamps for next season. I do not see any better use of these lamps other than lighting them on some occasions. Every time we need these lamps mother buys some new set anyway. Why do we need more lamps?”. “Ha. Ha. Ha. I always knew your brain has never developed. It is not about collecting, storing and using them. It is just fun. Mere fun. And it is the tradition for Kaarthihai anyway. You just do your job. Do not let any of our lamps stolen”. He runs again. I sit alone watching lamps. “Mother, oil in one of these lamps is running out, come and refill please”, I call my mother.
*Kaarthihai is the eighth month of Tamil Calendar, which falls during November 14 to December 13. Kaarthihai is generally spelled Karthigai with a g but pronounced with ha sound and also with one a, But I have added one extra a to give that lengthy a sound as in 'arm'.
**Kaarthihai is a festival, celebrated for consecutive three days during the Tamil month of Kaarthihai by decorating the house with mud lamps. The decoration can be compared to christmas lighting or Diwali lamps.
*** similar to Diwali, I assume Kaarthihai marks the onset of winter.