It is Holi today and I miss being in Delhi around this time. I miss it for a lot of reasons and as I am getting older it is all becoming a distant memory. So before I forget it all, I want to put it down. This is a mixed/confused account from my childhood and adult years. I have conveniently taken stuff that I like and kept out the bits I don’t quite like. I am sort of writing a mixed version of my past.

The most exciting thing about Holi is the buildup. This happens in many different ways. First is the weather, where it is still a bit nippy in the morning but gets warm in the afternoon. It also rains sometimes and everyone worries if it will rain on Holi day. Then the timing of Holi is always super important for school kids because March is the end of their academic calendar. So it is either just before the exam, or during their exams and very rarely after their exams. In the first two instances it usually adds to their misery of not being able to celebrate their Holi well. So every year the Holi dates at the beginning of the year are checked with the exam calendar.

A week leading upto Holi there is this building of tension and the kids in my neighbourhood start to eye me suspiciously. They start to weigh up the risks of what will happen if they throw a coloured balloon and ruin my white shirt, will I really put into action my ferocious looking hand signals or will I just try to evade the balloon and smile at the ‘Holi Hai’ crises and move on. There is evidence on the side streets of balloons being thrown and automatically I look up to see if one is coming my way. Sometimes a balloon on a warm spring afternoon is actually a bit of a relief. Then if I meet someone of my age we usually discuss how kids today are so scared that they throw balloons from their terraces and don’t even show their faces, while when we were young we used to do more of a street warfare and used to make these complex war strategies. We also had a code of honour that we won’t throw more than one balloon at a non Holi playing passerby. We also didn’t use coloured water in our balloons, so they didn’t cause much damage. Oh those were the good old days !

Also in the weeks leading upto Holi, all friends and relatives (from other parts of India and abroad) are told not to travel to other parts of the ‘hindi heartland’ unless they have a strong desire to participate in two weeks of Holi related revelry. Colleagues from work from the ‘hindi heartland’ and the assorted service staff book their leave to go home. Holi related sweets start to appear in sweet shops, my most favourite being the Gujia. I can never have enough of it ! My family gets another excuse for buying sweets and gifts for close family members ! Colour is bought from the markets and grease is frowned upon. No body ever seems to buy those grease based colours but they seem to show up everywhere.

As a kid, the actual Holi day usually started like any other day, with the vegetable seller waking me up earlier than usual. I rush out and its all quiet and none of my friends are out. I go down and my mum, as always, has been preparing a bucket full of water balloons for me. Before I rush out she feeds me and puts as much oil on me as she can manage in 2 minutes. The oil is so the colour doesn’t stick. There is the usual warning of not playing with older kids (because they bully me, beat me or put me in a tank full of water depending on their mood) , not to play with greasy colours and be back by 1pm or I’ll miss my favourite Holi meal – pakwaan and dal !!

And so Holi begins and slowly I see layers and layers of colors of all chemical types being applied to you and you in turn apply to everyone else. I see white cars being coloured, white house walls being spoilt and marble flooring being destroyed. I see scores being settled like never before. We go around the colony, execute our war strategies and pretend we decimated all the other gangs even though we didn’t. We come back, fill some more balloons and go back again. By this time it is almost noon and it starts to get warm and I am starting to get bored and even hungry. But before I go, it is time for the cricket match. So a bunch of kids get together in the park and have the Holi cricket match where any remaining unsettled Holi fights within the neighbourhood are settled on the cricket pitch. Someone plays the Amitabh Bachan song for the millionth time and I know that it is time to go home.

So I go home and I get the untouchable treatment. My mother first brings out a hose pipe which doesn’t make any difference to my layers of colour except it feels a lot cooler and spoils the floor even more. I get screamed at and I as always blame someone else. I am then sent straight to the bathroom with strict instructions not to use any linen until all the color is off me. After an hour , many scrubbings and colourful nails later I get to eat my favourite pakwaan and dal. The pakwaans have gone slightly cold which makes them even more crisper while the dal is delicious as ever and I realise that this is what I really like about Holi rather than the face painting bit. Until of course it is time for Holi next year.

In the evening it is time to go out and inspect the damage we inflicted. Cars are being washed, floors are being cleaned and curses are being inflicted upon whoever cares to hear. We pretend that we don’t know who did it and it was those rowdies from the nearby slum who we fought so bravely with our water guns.

It is, after all, Holi.

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