The proverbial prodigal son goes home for Deepavali.
THE festive mood of Deepavali was in full swing in Little India, Malacca. The rows of shophouses at the Jalan Bendahara and Jalan Temenggong intersection were thronged with jostling last-minute shoppers.
Ananda squeezed his way through the crowded five-foot way of the shops which displayed traditional Indian clothes, multi-coloured cloth lanterns, garlands, assorted Deepavali decorations, and a wide selection of sweets and snacks, amid raucous music blasting away.
Although he was surrounded by the noisy crowd and the excitement of the coming Festival of Lights, yet Ananda felt gloomy and lonely. This was going to be his third Deepavali, which would not be celebrated with his family in Pandan Jaya, Kuala Lumpur. It was more than two years ago that Ananda stormed out of his home in a fit of anger after a big argument with his father.
After failing his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Ananda did not want to study anymore, much to the chagrin of his parents. Instead, he chose to galavant around with his undesirable biker friends, frittering away his time. To an immature and impressionable teenage Ananda, dropping out from school was an invitation to freedom, time to experiment, and break away from the shackles of rules and authority.
What exasperated his father most was that his son had picked up drinking alcohol and smoking. His dad, who worked as a security guard, many a times had advised him to stop mixing with those loafers and get a job, to help out with the family’s expenses. But his father’s counsel fell on deaf ears, until the day he had to ask for pocket money from his father. His dad gave him a piece of his mind.
“Go and get a job. I don’t have money for you to waste on your useless friends!”
At that moment, a flustered Ananda shouted back at his dad, “I’m just asking for RM50 and you’re making a big fuss about my friends!”
Like many naive teenagers, Ananda took his father’s criticism of his friends personally. He was so enraged that day that he decided to move out to stay with his friends in Sungei Way, Petaling Jaya. His mum and his younger siblings who were very close to Ananda, tried to stop him from leaving home, but to no avail.
Staying with his so-called friends and later, working in a motorcycle workshop, was an eye-opener for Ananda. He learnt to appreciate family togetherness and understood the meaning of true friendship, having experienced the harsh realities of having to make a living.
Even though Ananda had not been home for a few years, occasionally he would telephone his mum and two younger siblings, just to let them know he was safe and that he was working as a motorcycle mechanic in Malacca. But he had not spoken a word to his dad for the past two years. Each time he saw the Malay security guard at the bank a few doors away from his workshop, it reminded him of his own father.
Then, one day, Ananda witnessed an unsuccessful attempt to rob the bank by two armed men, and that shocking incident made him realise the risks of his father’s job. Deep inside, Ananda yearned to go home and apologise to his father for his rash words and foolishness.
While he was browsing around the shops along Jalan Bendahara, Ananda noticed a few unsold Deepavali greeting cards strewn among the glittering plastic bangles on a makeshift table placed along the walkway. One of the cards was a picture of Prince Rama together with his wife Sita. That picture suddenly made Ananda recall the time when he was a young boy. His dad used to read to him about the adventures of Prince Rama who, together with the help of the monkey-god Hanuman, defeated the evil god Ravana.
After 14 years, Rama and Sita returned to their land. The people lit small clay diyas (oil lamps) in rows to guide them and welcome them back to rejoice in their victory. This is one of the stories Hindus associate with Deepavali or the Festival of Lights. Now this story seemed somewhat relevant to Ananda’s own personal life’s trials and tribulations.
The recollection of his father telling him that inspirational story of Rama and Sita, made Ananda miss his dad even more. He felt sorry for his parents, as he remembered they told him that they named him Ananda because it means “great joy” or “great happiness”. He is their first-born and Ananda is their proverbial bundle of joy. But instead, he had given them so much distress. At that instant, Ananda decided to go home for the coming Deepavali.
When Ananda called back to tell his mother the good news of his return, the family, especially his father, waited with great anticipation. The day that Ananda arrived home, the first thing he did was ask his parents for forgiveness. He bent down to touch his parents’ feet. In return, his dad and mum touched Ananda’s head, an act of blessing him with long life, fortune and prosperity.
It was an emotional reunion as Ananda’s mother openly cried with joy, while his brother and sister stood around them, beaming with delight.
That Deepavali morning, Ananda took his fragrant oil bath, which was very important to him, to cleanse his sins and impurities of the past, particularly the last few years. For Ananda, this Deepavali was the most significant and memorable one. That night when he lit the earthenware oil lamps with his younger brother and sister, he truly rejoiced, as the lamps signified the triumph of light over darkness in his life.
That year, Ananda moved back home to live with his family and started work at a motorcycle workshop nearby.
When he turned 22, Ananda teamed up with one of his former colleagues to open their own workshop in Sentul Pasar Dalam, Kuala Lumpur.
All that happened a few years ago. Today, Ananda is working diligently to make enough money to support the family so that his dad can retire from his security job as soon as possible.
Looking back, you could say it was Prince Rama and Sita who helped Ananda to see the light, to return home and celebrate Deepavali with his family.
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