‘Not the face not the face…’
PHOOM! A puff of green and blue burst on my face and hair. I’d have been blinded if I didn’t close my eyes instantly.
‘HAPPY HOLI YAAR!!’ Rahul and Arindam hugged me tight.
It wasn’t a surprise but it felt new. It felt warm. It felt good. Shivayan was here too. Already colored. He didn’t miss his chance of coloring me up either. And I didn’t want to lose the game anyway, so I ambushed them with whatever colors I could manage from each individual’s pouch.
Jeet came to me and rubbed a thick coat of colored powder on my face.
‘Happy Holi mate.’ he embraced me.
Jeet’s been my best friend for years now and we both know we don’t like being too intimate. I took a handful of green from the pouch he was holding and rubbed on his already blue face. Vikash bhaiya joined us and got himself colored as well. He’s elder to us and we keep the sense of respect and behave very politely with him.
‘Bhaiya, chalo, let’s go out and play some holi today.’ Jeet and I said in unison.
‘It’s only 11 O’clock. What will you do by going out so early? Let’s take our time.’
‘If we go out late, we’ll be late in coming back and thus, lunch will be missed, we’ll probably catch a cold after bathing in the evening.’ I replied.
‘You guys go and play, I’ll join you later.’ he said.
‘Okay bhaiya, do come.’ Colored in just blue and green, looking like crazy barbarians, we headed out.
We had more friends waiting for us outside our dormitory. As soon as we came face to face, colors changed. Blue and red were added.
‘More colors, let’s paint the town today.’ I yelled.
‘Let’s do it!’ everyone sounded excited.
We rushed to the nearby regular shop.
‘Uncle, we need colors. Give us 4 different in different pouches.’ I said.
‘You people should be carrying sacks of colors each. So young, yet big misers you guys are.’ he teased me as always.
‘Happy holi to you too uncle.’ I applied a colored tika on his forhead. ‘If you’re being so generous today, give us some extra then, won’t you?’ I winked at my friends.
He only kept grinning.
‘Hmm…uncle, where’s the zeal gone now boss?’ I pushed a little further and he laughed.
‘Go on now. Go and play.’ he bid us a goodbye.
We walked to the Jhalupara neighbourhood. We met more friends. We played a little more. Someone had smashed an egg on my head saying it would smoothen my hair and it’s a good medicine for the hair. I never liked such things- Wet colors that doesn’t go away and eggs and rotten things used for fun. I hated it instantly but the joy of this auspicious ocassion got the better of me. I had fun. A lot of fun. I never realized when my duo-tone face of blue and green had turned into a multi-colored portrait.
This was my second holi in Silchar in the 7 years I’ve spent here. I grew up in a strict world where I wasn’t allowed to play colors a lot because people didn’t play this festival like it was supposed to be played. Every year in during Holi, people died due to various reasons. Cases of friends killing friends. Brothers killing brothers. Accidents caused due to over joy and carelesness. People getting dead drunk and fighting with each other for stupid reasons. All these thoughts always scared me and my guardians would refrain me from joining the celebration with the other children of my neighbourhood. But as I grew, I kept seeing the happy, colored faces of the people on the streets, my own friends happy and childlike, playing just like the kids I once knew. They would want me to join them and I would say ‘no’ to all their proposals, sometimes hurting their feeings. I played last year, my first time in Silchar, with my new friends. It was one of my most happiest times. I remember the tired and exhausted, aching body that screamed for sleep. But the joy of this colorful ocassion would long surpass the tiredness and the colorful ocassion would carve itself into my happy memories.
Something felt different this time. The streets weren’t filled like I noticed before. Very few people would be seen playing this game of happiness.
‘Where is the Holi I dreamt of? Where is that day of colors I always missed before? I want to be a part of it. I so badly, for the first time in my life, went out by myself, to play with everyone, make friends, wish and greet strangers. I too, wanted to paint the world with love. But where is everyone? The streets are so empty, just a few neighbouring kids playing amongst themselves. So less color. The town still needs to be painted. Has people lost their tradition? Is everyone forgetting the meaning of life? Or is the world so digital now that old tradtions and the feeling of love is fading into the corners of the coming scientific era?’
‘You’re probably thinking the same as me right now.’ Vikas bhaiya scrambled my thoughts. ‘You saw the kids outside the lane today, didn’t you? They were happy, innocent little ones. They were playing just like Holi is supposed to be played. They will uphold our tradition. They will be the pillars to our nation. They may be few, but they are pure. And they will teach the others the meaning of it.’