It was a pleasant Sunday evening. I was sitting on Marine Drive, munching corn on the cob, as my legs dangled playfully from the parapet walls. I was enjoying the breeze against my face, while the ocean waves hit the rocks rhythmically. At a distance, birds flew across the fluffy, crimson clouds that were making way gracefully for a deep-blue-moon-lit sky.
Suddenly, the music of the waves was broken by the call of a vendor behind me, “Buy a lantern, madam.” I turned around and saw a young man attempting to sell me bright red and yellow sky lanterns made of paper. These have an opening at the bottom for a small flame that keeps the air inside hot for the lantern to take flight. They looked interesting, so I went for one. Little did I know of the meaning carried in this simple piece of craft.
It was night soon and I could not see the waves clearly any longer. So I got up and got on to the walkway, which is when I noticed a yellow sky lantern in the air, drifting far away. It resembled a scene out of my picturesque storybooks from childhood. The tale of a large hot-air balloon carrying a princess with her basket of fruits and cake to Fairyland flashed before my eyes.
The youngest member of the family proceeded to light the fire in the lantern with mild assistance from the vendor. Due to the lighting of the flame, as the lantern raised itself from the ground, the family members started clapping. Soon the lantern moved further up, coming close to a tree top. The elders and parents of the family were smiling in anticipation of releasing the lantern, while the children were extremely gleeful at the thought of watching an object go up in the air.
As I walked further, I was attracted to the hustle bustle of an excited family that had just purchased one of these lanterns. They placed it in the middle of the walkway and formed a human chain around it holding each other’s hands. The youngest member of the family proceeded to light the flame with a little help from the vendor. As the lantern lifted, the family started clapping in joy. Soon, the lantern rose to tree level. Steadily, it rose high enough, crossing the tallest skyscrapers on Marine Drive until it was well beyond the city’s sky line.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the lantern until it disappeared, which brought me back to the family now beaming with positivity. A light smile played on the lips of the parents, while the elders couldn’t hide their contentment. As for me, I was overwhelmed by strong emotions in my heart while my mind felt a sense of emptiness. To explain it metaphorically, I felt weightless. It is amazing how an act as simple as releasing a lantern in the air can make a person feel so alive and liberated.
The sky lantern is bought not to possess but to release. It is with us only for a few moments and there is no joy in keeping it. We are happy when it is out of our hands and lifts itself off the ground. The farther it floats away, the happier we feel. We neither decide its destination nor do we wish to know where it would end up and how.
Releasing a lantern is symbolic of ‘letting go’ of the baggage of the past that holds us down, those sad feelings that have unconsciously weaved cobwebs in our mind, things that clutter our material environment, and all what is within grasp.
As the glowing lantern soars high, floating freely in the skies, hitting turbulences occasionally, and then rising again in the new wind direction, our lives can also be as light, as simple, and as beautiful as the humble lantern, if only we are ready to let go.
This article was published at Hindustan Times.