An eerie glowing fog appears to hang over the Ganges. The smoke of a million firecrackers, illuminated by the electric lights of Varanasi.
Explosions, constant, from all directions. Daisy chains of crackers snapping down narrow alleyways, howls of laughter as the smoke clears. Distant booms like cannons discharged in some far off sea battle.
On the street, sparklers light up kids’ faces as they whirl them in little circles. Across the rooftops, families stand around bright white flames and send rockets hissing into the sky (or, occasionally, misfiring horizontally and bouncing across other rooftops like skipping stones).
Downstairs, my host Banti and her mother-in-law are dressed in their special occasion sarees and beginning the annual rituals.
They pour ghee into tiny clay bowls and dip in wound cotton wool to make homemade candles called diyas. We divide the task of placing them methodically around the house – up steps, by doors, on the rooftop – and then light them one by one.
The remainder are collected on a tray and we head outside to join the neighbours in placing them at a series of local shrines (a devotional Hindu practice called Aarti), before finally descending to the banks of the Ganges and taking turns to set a light adrift into the smoky darkness.
Banti’s son, 8 year-old Tutu (first picture), is bursting to get back home and onto the rooftop so we can set free his little collection of cherry bombs, spinning jalebis and sky rockets. It’s our turn to make some noise.