The Lantern's Tale
The Lantern's Tale5 mins 196 5 mins 196
The lantern stood quietly in one corner of the room, as it had done for so many years. A silent spectator to the decades gone by, its honey glow spoke of memories and hidden secrets of the past. Many a hand had held its ornate handle and traversed desolate hallways with it. Its burnished copper exterior, lovingly polished by past owners, showed no trace of decay. Like the footsteps left on the moon, the lantern seemed oblivious to the impermanence of time.
For Sumedha, this lantern was special. She had bought it from an antique lamp shop in Chor Bazaar. The wizened old man tottering about the shop had told her about the lantern's 80-year old history over three cups of tea and she had been mesmerized. Without giving a second thought about its authenticity or its price, she had purchased it and now it was one of her most prized possessions.
Every night, after she came back from work, the lantern would be waiting for her quietly. After finishing dinner, she darkened the room and lit a candle inside the lantern. And then whatever happened to be in its proximity was saturated with gold. The flames created dancing patterns on the floor and in those moments, she felt as if... as if the lantern was trying to reveal its secrets to her.
It had been born in a dimly-lit room in an unknown village somewhere in Bengal. Seasoned hands had carefully inscribed delicate patterns into the copper and tenderly fitted glass panes into the metal skeleton of the lantern. Eyes covered by round glasses had gazed proudly at the work of art as it was been taken to the market. From there on, an affluent family gained ownership of the lantern and it occupied an enviable position amongst the finery of their mansion. According to the old man's tale, the lantern had stayed with them for a long time before changing hands. The next family who assumed ownership of the lantern was financially unsound but very influential. The lantern had provided unquestioning companionship to them for 30 years before changing hands again.
And so it remained, the lantern riding upon the ever-changing waves of time, watching generations live and die, but at the same time, never allowing the years to leave any imprint on it. And then the waves slowly washed it to the shore of that small shop in Chor Bazaar, and then to Sumedha's apartment. There it stayed in that little corner, a loyal, stable friend.
Life went on. Sumedha married had children and quickly rose to the position of CEO of her company. The city she lived in underwent a sea change, becoming the largest metropolitan in the country. The cramped apartment was expanded and refurbished to accommodate three extra people. But the lantern showed no difference, except some tarnishing and a layer of dust. It surprised Sumedha how much she had changed when she compared herself to her old friend. Nowadays, Sumedha felt a lot closer to the lantern than she felt before. A little pool of tranquillity in her otherwise hectic life, it reminded her of the carefree, imaginative days of her youth. Once, she had gone to Chor Bazaar in the hope of finding the old man she had met so many years before. But when she reached the location of the shop, she found a swanky new eatery in its place. Further inquiries told her that the old man had died several years before, killed by one of his antiques falling on him, and his kin had since sold the location. Sumedha returned home slightly crestfallen and saddened at how fast old India was disappearing.
On this day, a particularly sultry one, Sumedha was lounging on the couch. Her daughters were playing with a ball nearby. She was absolutely terrified that the ball might knock over one of her decorative possessions, but no amount of admonishing would ever knock some sense into their heads. So she continued lounging, yet every nerve in her body was twitching as she watched the ball fly back and forth. Everything was fine for a few minutes. And then, the inevitable happened.
The pink orb streaked through the air in slow-motion. Sumedha's mouth opened to let out a scream, which never materialized. Expressions of terror froze on the children's faces as the ball slammed against the lantern, shoving it into the wallpaper. The lantern slammed to the ground with a clang, taking a long strip of the wallpaper along with it.
And as soon as it had started, it was over. Sumedha gazed, horrified, at the mutilated wallpaper and the battered lantern. Its panes had shattered and there was yellow glass peppered on the floor. The handle was bent out of shape and the exterior was dented. I never knew it had grown so fragile, Sumedha thought, as she stared at the remains of her old friend, heartbroken.
Needless to say, it was a very bad day for poor girls. But for Sumedha, it was a day like no other. Sure, she had had her ups and downs, but today, she felt as though a part of her soul had just died. It felt so wrong. Why, oh why, did the ball have to hit it? There were so many other knickknacks for it to slam into. Why then the lantern? She could have bathed in its golden glow for some more time. She could have listened to its stories for some more time. She would have smiled at it and felt it smiling back, for just some more time. But it would never be.
As she sat on her verandah, her eyes trained towards the night sky, she thought of all the good times she had shared with her dear friend. She thought of that little shop, where she had first gained the acquaintance of the lantern. She thought of its vibrant backstory and the equally vibrant man who had narrated it to her. As the memories came flooding back, a bittersweet smile spread on her face. Maybe, she thought, maybe it wasn't so bad. It was true that nothing could ever fill that empty space in that corner or in her heart, but she knew that the lantern had left her at the end of its long life as naturally as leaves fall from the trees.
"I hope you are happy, old friend", Sumedha whispered softly. And as she tenderly gazed up at the vast expanse of stars, she could have sworn that her friend's familiar lemon glow twinkled in the heart of every star dotting the sky.