Note – This story was also published in the March 2018 Issue the Storizen Magazine. You can read the issue here.
Nandini smiled broadly to herself in happiness. She was looking forward to the weekend when she would get to celebrate Holi with her friends. And this year it was going to be special.
All her childhood friends were coming from different cities and it was a decade since she had met them all. She had never thought that she could ever live without them but then life had taken its toll and all friends had gone in as many different directions as possible.
Nandini was gazing at the landscape as her bus trudged its way to her small hometown. She remembered how every Holi her grandmother would tell Shiv, my brother and I the same story. The story had never changed in all these years – of Prahlad and Hiranyakashyap – how Lord Vishnu had taken the avatar of Narasimha; how Holika had been burnt alive on the pyre. The same story with the same characters had not once bored her or deterred her from believing that good things happen to people who have good intentions at heart.
As she disembarked from the bus, she saw the streets lined up with stalls and makeshift shops that sold pichkari and the colors. She couldn’t help but smile even broader. She bounded into an auto rickshaw and went riding all the way up to the street where her home was located. She smiled. There was a huge “pandal” in the front and huge vessels were lying there.
Bhaang for tomorrow! She gleamed.
“My rock star is here!” yelled a voice from inside.
Her father came bounding outside. He threw open the gate and ran all the way to where she was standing. All dignity lost, she threw her bag and broke into a run and lunged on to her father.
Nandini’s mother and grandmother came out happily. They looked at each other and smiled. Every time Nandini was home from Pune, her home was always had extra celebrations. Ever since she had moved to Pune to work, the home was two decibels silent. With no one to jabber non-stop or lack of noise due to no fights between Shiv and Nandini; things had gone really silent. Shiv mostly hung out with his friends in the evening and rarely any of his friends visited at home. But when Nandini was coming, Shiv would stay in at home and make a ruckus and invite all his friends home. It was always short trips and though Shiv never accepted, he really missed his kid sister and wanted to make most of the time they had together.
Shiv bounded out of the garden, “Oi Gutkha you are home!”
Nandini stopped smiling and scowled at her brother. She hated when Shiv called her Gutkha. She didn’t like the name. She looked around, found few pebbles and grabbed them. She then broke into a run after her brother and threw the stones at him. Shiv laughed his head off maniacally. All the elders smiled as the children ran around.
Finally, the family settled down as many cups of tea and snacks were made and the children and the elders chomped away.
“When are your friends coming?” asked Shiv.
“By evening”, chirped Nandini, “To think we were away for almost a decade.”
“Yeah, we know you four”, nodded the Grandmother.
After lunch, Shiv and Nandini sat with grandmother as she started on the story of young Prahlad. Nandini cuddled with Shiv and they both sat listening raptly to her. The story or the narration hadn’t changed in many years. Nandini liked it this way.
Some things should never change. They lose their meaning in life.
As the story drew to a close, Nandini closed her eyes and decided to take a nap. There was time until Anoushka, Kartik, and Rishi arrived – her childhood friends. She had a pleasant smile on her face; the one that of a contented human. She couldn’t ask for more. She had a perfect life.
And when evening arrived, it was mayhem. All four got into a group hug and all spoke together, ran around in circles – it was the perfect cacophony. The parents looked and smiled as the children yapped around like mad things. It was going to be a difficult time trying to get them to settle. It had been eight and a half years now. To know that they still shared the same love and friendship was good enough for the family. Nobody could separate them.
“Let’s go buy colors and water-bombs”, suggested Kartik.
Everybody liked the idea and as they set to wear shoes to set out, Nandini’s dad came to them and handed each a 500 Hundred rupee note, smiling.
“Dad, we earn now. You don’t have to burden yourselves with our merrymaking”, said Nandini, smiling back.
“You can earn all the money that is there to earn. But I still pay for your Holi colors and water-bombs”, said Nandini’s dad.
All four laughed as they accepted the money with thanks and gratitude.
The market had expanded in so many years of development. It had become a huge place. Shops crammed and cluttered into a single area and there were women and their young children playing in rags. Some of them were tiny tots and infants. The four walked around the market and for some weird reason, none of them were speaking with each other.
In many years that they had celebrated Holi, they had never had seen what they saw today. The people who were selling the colors and other accessories for the celebrations were the ones who could barely afford a time’s meal. They wore rags and their clothes were torn at odd places. The infants didn’t have enough to cover themselves in the remainder of the winter that was leaving in few days nor did they have sufficient to eat and were bawling due to hunger or pain – not sure. The elders were trying to sell vigorously just so that they could make money.
“Is it just me or has the world always had so much suffering behind celebrations?” asked Anoushka, as she intently stared at a few months old baby lying in a crib made out of cloth. The baby had curled her fists and was sleeping peacefully.
“We just grew up, I believe”, said Rishi as he looked away.
“Holi is only for people who can afford to have Holi”, said Kartik, thoughtfully.
Nandini looked at her friends and smiled, “Are you thinking what I am thinking?”
The next day there was a huge stall in the town square where there was food being prepared and four very enthusiastic youngsters were running around. A sign-board read, “We need volunteers to serve those who serve us Holi!”
Many who had come after playing Holi and positively colored beyond recognition were enthusiastic to join. The four had to send them away to take a bath first. As the food got prepared and the smell wafted in the air, many street urchins came looking and peeking meekly. Nandini and Anoushka were encouraging the kids to come in. Slowly, poor and underprivileged – all joined in.
Nandini and Anoushka started playing Holi with themselves on the street and a few of the kids joined them. For a change, it was really pleased to have done something totally different on a day as auspicious as Holi.
A police van came trudging up to them and an Inspector jumped out. Nandini was the first to run up to them.
“Good Afternoon sir”.
“Do you know you need permission to pull off something like that? It’s a corporation area”, said the Inspector, frowning lightly.
“I am sorry sir; It was a quick plan. Plus, I thought that we just want to feed the unfed and the poor – even if it is just for one day”, said Nandini, honestly.
“The good part is that your father heard you four muddle together and mumble the plan and that is why he took permission on your behalf”, said the Inspector smiling at her, “Now, get me and my colleague a plate too, will you? We are hungry too.”
Nandini burst into a broad smile and she and Anoushka ran to the stall where the boys and the new volunteers were volunteering. They quickly loaded three plates with food and went and offered to the police.
All the three police personnel smiled as they ate the food served by the two.
Nandini felt happy. As a child, she had always thought of “Gulaal” as a happy color. But today, celebrating Holi along with the ones who brought Holi to her life, she knew that “Gulaal” indeed was the happiest color she had ever known. She could meet her friends and they all were of the same opinion as hers. By end of the day, they were all tired – to the core. But they were happy beyond words.
“I know we have celebrated the same festival so many times in our lives together. But we met after such a long time and still made a huge difference. Thank You Guys, you are the most precious possession I have”, muttered Nandini lazily.
“There goes our little emotional fool”, mumbled Kartik.
Everyone burst out laughing as she shoved him jovially. She was glad. And Nandini wanted to keep this memory exactly like this in her mind forever.