October rain, light and a candle by the window

Photos by Poppy Mookerjee.

NEW YORK – October rain has a dark weeping effect on the landscape, which is already sere and yellow under the waning lights of the autumnal sun.

Leaves, branches, twigs, and flowers are everywhere on the ground in a burnished disarray as daylight fades away into long swathes of darkness.

And as the nights grow longer and colder, I strive to revive my wilting spirit at the sight of falling petals and leaves with an iridescent sprig of candle light that bequeaths radiance to the diminished glimmer.

Early morning before the sun rises, I line the kitchen counter with tea lights and candles that cast a sequined spell of eddying incandescence, as if in a heady incantation.

The hushed sacredness is then spoken into a wordless whisper by the pearlescent dawn breaking in through the stained glass windows.

“For Thou will light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness,” murmurs Psalm 18:28.

The surrounding space shimmers in colors by the candlelight.

Touched by a riveting hue, the rich violet floats in a fringe of blue and swims back into a painted orange. A symphony of silver and grey-blue redeems the darkness.

One of my favorite paintings of Rembrandt is the “Philosopher in Meditation” which has an old man sitting by the window, bathed by the transcendental yet bleak light of the skies.

On the other side of the room, demarcated by a flight of an ascending staircase is the figure of an elderly woman, illuminated by the flame of fire in the household hearth.

The two levels of consciousness, the spiritual and the earthly, are immersed in the long shadows of an evening, partly lit by a golden light of warm beauty.

Light is diffused, reverberating on heaven and earth with a chimera of ever-changing symbols.

If the autumn dawn rides in on the fragmented stream of a luminous river, the evenings are similarly awash with the vision of houses, silhouetted by the candle light, flickering on window sills.

The melancholy of these autumn days remind me of the lyrics by the exiled Romanian poet, Nina Cassian, “One night I wanted to light a cigarette, whiter than the moon with no one around –just the sea, with its solemn, hidden force; I wanted to stay in September..”

Growing up on tales of how our grandparents studied diligently under the wavering lights of candles, I try reading a print book by candle light on a cold, damp night.

With the rain shivering down the window pane, I dare say, it is no less than a book séance, adding a nuanced magic into the velvet darkness.

Well, this is how people have lived their lives for generations – without the ample light of electricity.

Now, every time I see a candle by the window, I am taken back to the iconic scene of the frosted candlelight at the attic window in David Lean’s film adaption of Boris Pasternak’s novel, Dr Zhivago.

In the movie it implies hope’s eternal spring and a return to life’s full circle within Dr. Zhivago’s relentless search for the ethereal Lara through the panoramic history of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Snow on snow the blizzard blew, All frontiers enswirling.

A candle on the table stood- A tallow candle burning. “

In my own humble abode candles infiltrate life’s enduring mystery and its poetry looms like an intangible air.

If the earth itself emerged slowly out of the mantle of darkness into light, the glory of our ancient scriptures is undoubtedly revealed in its full splendor within the folds of trembling light.

The great epics, the sonatas and the symphonies were created in the deep reaches of seers, who envisioned more than they could ever see or grasp.

It is, as the Jewish Book of Zohar enumerates, the deep secrets of the universe puffed out of the great smoke of darkness by the discerning light of the mind.

For darkness is the nurturing spirit of the Light. It is a descent into the inner most being and into the deep uncertainties of life. For who can ever say where the road begins and where it leads?

And so in ages gone by, much of this world lived, thrived, prospered, and perished before artificial light came into existence. And in darkness alone, the divisions dissolved and oneness spread.

And just as the sculptors carved out a form of immense beauty from a shapeless stone, we too are called forth to salvage the light from out of the wells of darkness.

And this ancient, feeble candlelight burning on my counter top is humanity’s first attempt to unscramble the primordial darkness.

When roads are covered white and roofs weighed down with snow, I’ll find you by the doorway as I leave for my stroll,” Pasternak, broods.

And so too is written in the heart and chorus of our musical Vedas. “Asato Maa Sad Gamaya/Tamaso Maa Jyotir Gamayo/ Mritur Maa Amritam Gamaya” :- Lead me from Ignorance to Truth, from Darkness to Light, from Death to Immortality.

(Poppy Mookerjee is a journalist and a writer for more than a decade with American and Indian publications)




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