Akshay woke up to the sound of firecrackers. He smiled thinking of the celebrations to follow. Then he realised that Spot had not come to wake him up!

Akshay woke up with a start. Diwali was yet to dawn, but his neighbours were already up to it. Atom bombs were piercing the darkness with flashes of light, and the multi-layered firecrackers were keeping pace with the 1000-walas on his street, courtesy Vikas next door!

Life has been good, thought Akshay. Last Diwali, he had found Spot as a little puppy outside his gate, cowering from the loud fireworks on Diwali eve. The watchman had picked him up and Akshay had instantly fallen in love with the tiny black and white mongrel and named him Spot. He begged Daddy to allow him to keep the puppy and promised his Mom that Spot was his responsibility and that he would walk and bathe him regularly. Soon Dad and Mom too started liking the adorable little puppy, who was so ready to please them.

And so they had settled into a routine, with Spot waving Akshay goodbye with his tail every morning as he left to school and welcoming him back again with wet kisses and oodles of puppy love.

Missing!

But today, something didn’t seem right. Spot hadn’t woken him up with the familiar nuzzle. “Where could he be?” wondered Akshay, springing from the bed and rushing downstairs. He searched all over the house, in the car park and garden, but Spot was not to be found anywhere. The sound of crackers had by now reached such a crescendo that he couldn’t hear his own voice as he called out “Spot… Spotty… where are you, my boy?” The watchman had not seen Spot slip out of the gate. There was so much activity on the street, who would have spotted a mere mongrel, albeit with a collar?

The very thought of life without Spot, who’d follow him like a shadow, set Akshay’s pulse racing. Spot was so much a part of his homework, mealtimes, hobbies and weekends. And they shared so much love, Spot knew Akshay’s friends and he joined in their games, and they even watched their favourite TV shows together! But today, Spot was not to be found anywhere, and Akshay was determined to find him. He informed Mom that Spot was missing and ran out of the gate.

Akshay ran up and down his two neighbouring streets, calling out for Spot all the time, but he couldn’t find him. Friends stopped him to ask what the matter was, and shrugged when he asked them if they had seen Spot. Dawn was breaking, but the streets looked like a war zone with all the smoke from crackers. Akshay saw a few men huddled outside a tea shop three streets away and asked them if they had seen a black and white dog. An old man replied that he had seen a frightened puppy run that way, towards the storm water drain and that he narrowly missed getting hit by a speeding car.

Dodging the firecrackers and bombs, Akshay ran towards the storm water drains where a few homeless families were sleeping. He thought he heard a yelp and bent down to look inside the drain. And what did he find there? His own puppy Spot, wet and shivering with fright, too scared to come out. Akshay went in and pulled Spot out. Diwali had now truly dawned for Akshay! He ran home with Spot, and gave him a warm bath before getting ready for the Diwali festivities.

And then a thought struck Akshay’s mind. “What if Diwali was quiet and elegant with diyas and sparklers minus the noise… do we really need these loud crackers?” he wondered “How can this be a joyous festival if the celebrations cause so much distress?” He thought of Grandpa who had to wear earplugs and stay indoors at Diwali because of his heart condition, and the numerous dogs, cats and even cows he had seen on the street, running helter-skelter at Diwali. Why couldn’t this instead be a pleasurable festival for one and all? He had heard in school about the children exploited in firework factories, but that was far away. Today he had come so close to losing Spot, and it was time he acted.

Akshay picked up all the brand new boxes of loud crackers and asked his Dad to exchange them for sparklers. Yes, this was going to be a fun and pleasurable Diwali for one and all — and that included Grandpa and Spot. Akshay didn’t care that his friends and Vikas next door would call him a wimp. Yes, he was just a little boy, all of 12 years, but he was going to make a difference — starting today!