In which a group of children surprise their friend on Holi!
I had marked the date in red, yellow, and green the week before. 7th March! The date is etched in my mind. It was the day of Holi, a Holi that I’ll never forget!
The night before, on the 6th, I attended Holika Dahan in our complex dressed like a proper little girl with my parents and sister. My best friend Pavitra and I had taken pains to dress up and wear all our finery — a shimmery Ghagra choli, bangles, necklace, maatha patti, bindiya, jhumka…you see what I mean by a proper little girl? But you can’t have a proper holi in those clothes, can you?
I pestered Pavitra to come back home with us. She didn’t really need too much pestering. It was more of an effort to convince her parents. I made such a song and dance sequence of all the preparations and planning we had to together for the following day’s holi celebrations. Aunty and uncle gave in after a few minutes.
As soon as we reached home, Pavitra and I dug into my wardrobe and pulled out two of the oldest, shabbiest track pants and shirts. Once that was out of the way, we moved on to other, more important matters, like filling up our pichkaaris or water guns with gulaal or coloured water. I had a complete set of tank pichkari, which you sling over your shoulders like a backpack. Then there was a piston pichkari which was pretty good at squirting long distances. Added to all this, I’d got a set of water pistols that year. Pavitra had brought only her handgun pichkari. She sat there eyeing my new set with the six pichkaris—in green, blue, pink, red, violet, and white. Sharing with friends makes for more fun, doesn’t it? I handed her three, and I kept the others for myself. My little sister had her own sets, and we just let her hang around with us.
Now, my dad became the biggest kid during holi. He was as enthusiastic as the rest of us and helped us prepare for the festival.
Dad had brought three dozen balloons to fill with water. So there we sat, filling the balloons and collecting them into buckets. We needed three buckets to store the balloons. I’ve never prepared for my exams the way I got ready for Holi. Our trays of colour, pichkaris, balloons, and water buckets were arranged by the door before we went to bed. Do you think we slept that night? NO, of course not! We were so excited that we kept whispering. And, of course, younger sisters can get cranky if we don’t let them sleep, right? So Pavitra and I sneaked into the balcony and sat there giggling and whispering in the light thrown by the full moon.
I don’t know about you, but I felt brave without the lights with my friend beside me. The shadows in the dark didn’t bother us that much. Pavithra and I tiptoed to the kitchen and piled a plate with gujiyas, sev papdi, and ladoos. How we made our way back to the balcony without dropping anything, I don’t know! But we did! Hours passed as we chatted about our teachers, school, and colony friends, all the while stuffing ourselves with snacks.
A loud “HOLI HAI” startled me, and I cracked open my eyes. I felt a hand shake me gently! Goodness! We must have dozed off on the balcony as we sat gabbing the night before! Pavithra was curled up on the other side, and my dad stood there with gulaal in his hands.
Dad put the tilak on our forehead and told us to get ready. And we were ready in no time. We finished our bath, changed into our old clothes, had Complan, and reached the colony garden armed with our ammunition, all in less than 20 minutes. I wasn’t surprised to see that our friends were waiting for us. That’s the magic of Holi! No one wants to remain at home. Wait, one kid was missing! Arun wasn’t there! I wondered why but all of us had been waiting for this day for so long that we couldn’t hold back any longer.
It was a chaos as kids ran here and there, ducking and jumping as we tried to slap each other with colours. The air in the park looked like the rainbow had come down to earth, for the adults were also out in full force, throwing gulaal. Five minutes went by, ten, and then fifteen. We’d finished with the dry powders, and it was time for the pichkaris. Soon we were dripping wet, and our first bucket was empty. Someone called a truce, and the whole lot of us, that is, seventeen kids, began to fill up our pichkaris and tanks. Someone called out, “Hey that Arun hasn’t come! Let’s go get him.” Off we went, up the stairs to his house. When aunty opened the door, she saw seventeen wet brats blocking the stairway. And she opened the door wide for us to trickle in. Would you believe it? Arun was still sleeping!
I tiptoed once more, with the rest of the crowd—into Arun’s room. There was no planning, but we seemed to know what to do. As one, we grabbed the sheet with Arun, lifted it off the bed, and placed it on the floor. Someone whispered 1, 2, 3 and seventeen pichkaris sprayed the poor guy as screams of “HOLI HAI!” filled the room. Thank goodness he didn’t get a heart attack!
Arun shot up straight from the floor. The look on his face told us that he couldn’t make head or tail of all that was happening. Then he laughed and jumped and babbled all at once. So did we! Arun’s mom asked us to wait for a few minutes so he could get ready. In the meantime, we helped mop up the wet floor. What a crazy time it was! It was fitting to hear aunty say that she’ll pray to Holika Mata to come every day if it meant Arun would finish his milk so quickly!
It was time to get back to the garden to play Holi. As our buckets emptied, dad filled them up at the neighbours’ on the ground floor and hurried back to the park. My mom and all the other aunties had their group, and they applied dry colors to each other.
The most awaited part of Holi began at noon. Our colony had arranged a rain dance with a live band. The band started playing “RANG BARSE” on the dot at 12 noon. Water showers drenched us as families danced to a medley of popular Holi songs like there was no tomorrow. But, the best troupe was led by my dad and his friends. They did the NAAGIN dance. Tall, short, thin, rounded…, shapes and sizes didn’t matter. I still see the look of sheer enjoyment on their faces.
We were winded by three pm. Mom heated mustard oil for us to massage all over our bodies. It took a hot shower to bring us back to a semblance of our old selves. Pavitra and I gobbled up a traditional holi meal of poori, aloo sabzi, and kheer.
And that is how another precious happy memory was stored.
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