For the first time ever in my life, I have a ruddy pink glow which does not come from healthy eating and such like, but rather from colour rubbed soundly into my skin and hair which refuses to wash off no matter how much Vaseline and face scrubs I attack it with. The child is mottled like a baby leopard, compounded by the fact that he refuses to stay still enough for the colour to be scrubbed off by gentle and not so gentle means of abrasion.
Our celebrations began the previous night itself, the night Holika was burnt. Ever since we moved into this new complex a couple of years ago, festivals are being celebrated with great gusto purely because the number of people to celebrate them with is much higher than in our previous building which had 12 flats in toto of which a majority were retired from active social life. The programme was Holika Dehan, followed by some song and dance with a live Dhol wallah and antakshari, which was then to be followed by a couple of rounds of tambola or Housie. Or whatever it is that you know the game by. This last part of the programme was proposed by some senior ladies of the complex with such enthusiasm that no one had the heart to veto it. Tambola, I snorted in disdain when it was suggested. I had visions of grizzled heads sitting in pindrop silence marking their tickets with the kind of ferocious concentration that might be better served in an examination hall, if grizzled heads would be seen in examination halls, that is. I am not yet ready to be a grizzled head, and no way am I going to be sitting in pindrop silence in any spot where I could be loudly boring the socks off polite folks with anecdotes about my PCOD and resultant mood swings. You can easily spot me in a crowd by the glazed over expressions of the folks sitting in the vicinity, who are rooted to the spot by the inertia brought on by hearing tales that should be patented and sold as instant cures to insomnia, I might still make a killing and be able to retire to my island. And be my own millionaire.
Anyway, the Holika fire set ablaze cracklingly, the dhol wallahs going at the leather parchments with the kind of gusto that in normal times would get the demons in the skull rubbing their eyes and waking up to start their hammer and tong behind my eyeballs, and we thought some song and dance would happen. Some antakshari, and gentle ribbing between the two sexes. So traditional Holi folk songs. You thought so too? Well, the entire assemblage converged on a tiny table, drowning the poor lady sitting within trying to sell them housie tickets, and almost collapsed on her like a rugby scrimmage. Hands and limbs flailing, they all managed to grab their tickets and scampered back to their seats (not to mention the fights that broke out for seats right up front in order to hear the numbers being called. I sat in. I had a ticket in my hand and a pencil to cross out the numbers being called. The silence was pindrop. People had even stopped breathing. And every single person was least bothered about song and dance. Even the children had stopped trying to kill or at least permanently maim each other and were sitting with expressions of such innocence and concentration, pencils hovering over their tickets that one could almost picture them with halos around their heads. The game was played. Winners jumped up and ran to collect their spoils. Much collective groaning happened each line, and the full houses were mourned with the kind of wails that would have made professional mourners proud. The dholwallah sat on the sidelines, drooping with sleep, while the game was going on. And had to be poked back to life with a pitchfork to play a bit in between sets. And yes, there was food too. A chaat buffet that the entire audience dashed to in between the sets, leading to any casual observer wondering why, in the span of the entire huge compound area, all the people had divided themselves into two camps, one in the scrimmage for housie tickets, and the second in the scrimmage for the pani puris, many of whom had physically climbed onto the harried pani puri wallah’s shoulders in order to get his attention. Yup, the great Indian concept of rush the counter was never so evident as it was yesterday. This could have been a flight departure gate and no one would have known the difference.
The next morning had us residents troop down dressed in our white. I had duly oiled hair and face to protect skin and hair against the bad effects of colour. Never mind the fact that we as a society complex would have contributed single handedly to the sale of Rangeela Non Toxic colours, having brought them by the dickey full for the celebrations. No non organic colours were allowed, there being little children present. A little fella came in happy and chirpy, and promptly burst into loud anguished wails when accosted by the rows of frightening faces, all coloured to such levels that no square centimeter of skin was left untouched. The kids had a dunking pool to themselves which was promptly hijacked by the adults and used for dunking the adult purposes. Holi songs blared, mixed with newer groovy ones, and folks of every size shape and denomination got on the dance floor with much gusto fuelled no doubt by the unofficial beverage consumption going on surreptiously behind the wings with the dicky of an innocent bar being converted into an impromptu bar.
I had not ventured to the drinks counter, having sworn off intoxicants for the past few years, but I did not factor in the thandai I was downing by the glassful. It was a hot day. It is tiring to be dancing in the hot sun and ensuring that no one escapes your line of vision without emerging multicoloured from the encounter. By the fourth glass of thandai, I felt my head buzzing a bit and I sat down to collect my senses, when the lightning bolt struck. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a pleasant dreamy haze, all mellow and teary and about to burst into Lennon’s Imagine totally off key, if I were allowed at the mike. Luckily the thandai had done its work too well and kept me seated for long enough to make getting up seem like something to be attempted only when all them senses had assembled back into working order.
The child had to be hung on a clothesline to dry out in the sun once he was done playing, and then tied to a chair to prevent him from running back and jumping into the tub.
Next year round, I’m going to ensure I bring my thandai from home.