Everyone was out to welcome the king and queen. But it was the youngest maid who had the grandest idea of all.

The youngest maid in the palace was nine years old. No one had appointed her but since her mother and sisters worked in the palace she followed them there, helping where she could. She was always willing and so the youngest maid was always in demand.

The king was returning today and the palace was in an uproar. Fourteen years had passed since the day he had gone away, leaving his people bereft and sad. The stories of his adventures, passed from mouth to mouth till they reached his people, were told and retold by his people till they were legend. The youngest maid, having grown up hearing stories of his courage, was eager to see him.

The city and the palace were decked with flowers. The youngest maid had worked all day but she longed to do something more, something to mark the day with a stamp of specialness. But what? Now, late in the evening, she knew time was running out. Soon the king would ride into the city.

As she wandered around the palace, the youngest maid stopped suddenly, her eyes fixed on something that glittered and twinkled. Galvanised by the idea that exploded in her head, the youngest maid ran from room to room, deaf to the questions of the others, obeying only the orders of her own heart. When she had everything she needed, the youngest maid swung into action. From room to room she went, arranging things, stepping back occasionally to admire her handiwork, and smiling at the thought of what people would say. As evening deepened into night her work shone and the youngest maid was happy.

Outside the palace

The streets were thronged with people. Outside the palace a crowd of maids and grooms, of important officers and their harried assistants, had gathered. The city hummed with excitement. The palace people did not at first realise that some of the excitement was directed at their own windows. The townspeople had seen the shining gold dancers in the window and ripples of excitement ran through them. They recognised a good idea. Fiirst one, and then the next house imitated it. And just in time! Already the roar of welcome could be heard.

That was when the youngest maid’s sister looked around and saw the lamps at the windows. There was no doubt that this was the youngest maid’s handiwork; for there, dancing between the lamps on the balcony was the youngest maid herself. She was waving to her sister, pointing to the lamps, a glow of satisfaction on her face.

“Oh, no!” the youngest maid’s sister groaned. She was heard and other heads turned, other necks craned and in no time at all the palace people knew that the youngest maid had taken things into her own hands and decorated the windows and balconies of the palace with rows of lamps.

“Put them out, put them out!” screeched the senior maids, aghast at the temerity of the youngest maid. But it was too late. Already the youngest maid’s idea had been replicated and the entire street glowed with the dancing flames of a thousand lamps. And here was the king and his queen, smiling at their people.

The crowds surged around the chariot, anxious to get close to their king and queen. And so, when king Rama stepped down from the chariot, looked at the windows of the palace and said, “What beautiful garlands of lamps!” he was heard by many people. And in the manner of all stories, this one too spread from mouth to mouth, till everyone knew that king Rama and queen Seeta had liked the lamps. And so, every year after that, lamps shone in the city on the day the people celebrated the return of their King. But in the sad manner of stories, the name of the youngest maid was lost in the telling and retelling. But she lives on in the golden gleam of the lamps that are lit to welcome Diwali every year.

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