“I am very sorry.”
The man in the dark blue shirt, standing dumbstruck in our courtyard, looked up at my Dad. He was wet from head to toe – so wet that it was hard to ascertain what the colour or make of his shirt had once been.
“I am really very sorry.” Dad repeated with emphasis. “You know how hard it is to manage kids on Holi day. Why don’t you have some of our mithaai? With our best compliments and apologies.”
Our victim eyed the mithaai sitting temptingly on the table, and his face broke into a smile. “Oh, please don’t apologise. We should let the kids have fun.” There we had it. Our third Get-Dad-To-Lure-Them-With-Mithaai victim was successfully nailed and actually smiling about it.
As soon as the man was out of hearing range, Dad rushed us to get a refill for our pichkaris. “Look, the next guy is just round the corner. Make sure you aim well and steady!” And sure we did. Our pichkaris did not leave an inch of the courtyard dry and without colour. As for us, although we didn’t know it then, we were swiftly creating memories for a lifetime.
Now, the pichkaris were a story in and of themselves. I usually settled for the long and straight ones; I found them easier to refuel. Mom would get a small one for herself and we would spend the better part of the morning mixing up colours in a big tub. That, and letting Granny give us a good old coconut oil champi (oil massage) so “you won’t pull your hair out trying to clean it“.
But finally, when we were out playing, there would always be the star, showstopper of a pichkari, invariably owned by our neighbour from three houses away. It was like an Oxygen Tank one year – so, no rushing to the tub every few minutes. The next year it was a Space Ship with a compartment for jet fuel. Every year, when the star pichkari came to the forefront, we would deliver a two-minute silence of reverence.
My mom once caught me fleeing up the stairs in the middle of our Holi playing. “Where are you off to? Tired already?”
“Yes.” I decided to try that one. “I will come back in 5 minutes.”
Mom looked at me doubtfully. “Are you sure 5 minutes will be sufficient to gulp down the aloo dum and luchis?”
Um, eventually, both of us decided to “rest” for some time. Granny’s kitchen was fragrant with Holi special food – gujiyas, luchis, mishti and thandaai – and it was a grave insult to stay away when a place smelled as tempting as the kitchen did.
Later that afternoon, I spent hours scrubbing myself in the bathroom. My fingernails and nose were among the most adamant, and I would emerge, both of these still shining a bright pink. Winter was receding then, but early evenings were still slightly chilly. The sun shone golden on the multi-coloured courtyard, lighting up in sepia the exploits of the morning. But that was hardly the thought on my mind. Final exams were over, and though we had school the next day, summer vacations were not so far away. I was freshly bathed, ravenous again, and dreamily lost in thoughts of the holidays to come, and the world seemed particularly wonderful just then.
It has been several years since I played Holi like that. In that uncanny, eerie way life steals away things you take for granted, a lot has permanently changed. But even today, when I look up and see the golden sun, spot a particularly fancy pichkari, inhale a whiff of aloo dum, and see Mom, in her vibrant yellow, customary Holi salwar-suit, I know something for sure. Our memories will, even if we don’t, ensure we #KhulKeKheloHoli. Nothing is ever going to take that away from us.
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Picture from blog.airmauritius.com