All Saints’ Day observed by Christians on the 1st of November was not only the eve of All Souls’ Day but also Diwali, the festival of lights, thus morphing solemnity, somberness and festivity as at dusk, the church bells began to toll while the congregation silently wound its way to the cemetery to light candles at the gravesites of their dear ones. I have participated in this ritual for decades but this time, I accidentally stumbled upon a custom unknown to most of the people of my hometown, Daman!
As I cruised down a lane called Badrapor that night, I noticed through the swirling fog that most of the Christian dwellings had brightly burning candles on their front porches and only my keen sense of observation made me distinguish them from dipavali lamps! Here was an uncanny similarity to what I had read in my French textbook in school, about the way All Souls’ Day was commemorated in the countryside of France. But there was no French connection in this erstwhile Portuguese colony of Damão. Could there possibly be a chance this custom had somehow found its way to tiny Badrapor, which was the landing-ground for the Portuguese over 400 years back? How come the rest of the population of Daman so steeped in custom and tradition was not even aware of this?
Dusk, Nov. 1st – Badrapor, Big Daman
Curiosity taking the upper hand, I parked and walked up to the door of an elderly lady who explained that the candles were indeed meant for the departed souls who would be visiting their homes on the eve of All Souls’ Day between dusk and midnight.
As I settled behind the wheel of my car on that serene November night, I could suddenly see the spirit behind such customs and traditions, the flesh and blood of the surreal. I could not help but remember the victims of the blasts in Delhi as I looked up at the display of fireworks in the sky for a flitting moment and then beyond into eternity as my lips whispered those three little words that my soul was saying – R.I.P.