By Candlelight

I enjoy candles. They’re different from the ajji’s-handmade-wicks and spot-of-oil deepas from the home I grew up in, they sometimes smell like somewhere else, and they’re so sweetly impractical: built to be put out with a hearty lung’s breath, their valiant attempts against coconut-frond-susurrus breezes rouses a pompom cheerleader in me.

I favour aromas that are rounded. Vanilla-based, wood and pines, maybe spiked with citrus. Heady florals and musks take me on start-stop car rides to wedding receptions, forced photos, itchy clothes, and spark an acid wash in my stomach. I also like when scents are dispersed enough that catching a whiff of it feels like a welcome interruption. I usually begin my candle-chorusing a little after dusk, when sunlight begins to ink quickly.

High daylight at my desk is mercifully clouded, cat-proofed, and canopied. It gets toasty and rushes colour to the cheeks, yes, and a languorous fan between 1 and 2 is sometimes advisable. So when it’s daylight, I light just incense. 

Currently, an ash vetiver is playing.

It moves me that metaphors and mementos like deepas-candles-incense can work like panacea. Light hushes of well-being. Small reprieve, like a bite of chocolate after crying, or a spot of sunshine on a cold blot in my ear. Every time I begin this matchstick-candle ritual, it feels like I place my most searing pain outside myself. Little fires from within me that I bring out — that I may tend them with a little less urgency, with fuel other than my spirit and will to live. I tend them like a hearth, like the literal light that keeps the night going, and try to get on with my life otherwise. Drawing. Writing. Stretching. Cooking eggs (at odd-hours). Thinking. Trying to make my way through the sprawl that is the whole world outside my mind.

I don’t actually know what I do with my pain during the day. Sometimes I am able to see that it keeps me ball-and-chained in bed. Sometimes, the ball sticks with me as I stumble through laundry, phone calls with my mother, fussing over how much light, water, and cat my plants are getting. Maybe it goes into the vigour with which I scrub the bathroom floor. Perhaps I pour my pain into the small patch of grass that I’m nursing just for the cat to unearth.

Tending candles teaches me that anything alive enough to stir could do with attentive fuel and shelter.

The rain tree outside our house mingles with a lush, deep green young tree that bears fruit I don’t yet recognise. The tree’s leaves are wide and hearty, waxy and hardy, and they’re attached to tertiary-ish branches. Likely they report to Head Office themselves. I think the tree is in the cashew-ish family: its fruit grows downside-up, and is a plump gourd the size of my prayer-joined palms that have lapsed mid-prayer. 

This is first part of the fruit’s design that I love: it grows at select outer extremities of the tree. It is wisely distanced from the next fruit, which I imagine is to maximise the odds of far-flung seed dispersal when the wind one day explodes the fruit. The second part that aptly blows my mind, is the fruit’s weight. Anchored on its one leg-thick stalk, the fruit is at all times able to counter a) the wind and b) the branch’s surface tension (what is a branch but a tightrope?). At all times the fruit stands tall, ripening in the sun. Its insides, I imagine, are cellulose flesh that has to dry itself out in a frosted-glass sun to make caves and cavities and prepare the tree’s seeds to be flung far out into the world one day. 

If you dreamy-play join-the-dots with the tree’s fruits (or have a machine run various path coordinates), you will, in one instance, trace the young tree’s canopy. 

The only practice from my very religious upbringing that stays with me — is caring for light. My fingertips are hardwired to managing a wick till the flame that erupts from it is a prudent, diminutive size, like my family’s ideal of a bottu: a small proclamation of femininity a little above the eyes, a smudge enough to indicate piety, but not too indulgent of the boundlessness of feminine beauty. I still have a scar on my thigh from my wick-tuning years and it makes for the world’s most boring story at “tell me how you got that scar?” games.

I arrange my candles in small crowds and knots away from the main source of light in the living room (a bulb). Their pea-large flames push and jostle with the breeze like children at a puddle. When it drizzles, like it did today, the glass and ceramic votives hiss. Eyelash-wispy raindrops vapourise in the span of crisp finger-snaps.

My little fires rage into the night.

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