The one festival which would be avoided totally while I lived in cities and cantonments. That one festival which I never missed in those twelve years abroad.
Holi, with its attendant wet clothes, colours in the ears and fingers, water balloons and relentless smearing of gulaal, was best enjoyed from behind closed doors, watching the fun and frolic from a quiet window, wearing clean dry clothes, reading a book and enjoying the silent house.
The hills however, have given Holi a totally different spin. How can one not participate in the excitement of this week long festival here, when Nature itself is so keen to celebrate? Flowering Puluum ( plum) and peach trees line the hill slopes. In the forests, there are blood red rhododendrons, cheery yellow Acacias, and fresh green and ruby red leaves on trees. Birds begin chirping and singing from dawn to dusk, while courting partners, making nests and pecking at adventurous insects.
And then, we have “Holi Baithaks” to enjoy. Dholak and harmonium are the only instruments which accompany old folk songs around Krishna , the joy of playing with colours, hymns to the powerful Devis of the mountains, and just good, happy tunes which everyone joins in.
I look forward to the one arranged by a dear friend at his home. For the past six years, I wait for his call, and I know its going to be another memorable afternoon.
It all begins with a small havan under a circle of oak trees, around this big benevolent Buddha statue.
After the sunlit havan, we all troop up to a wood panelled hall with large windows inviting the trees inside, excellent acoustics from the mud smeared walls, natural light around us and plenty of cushions and rugs to settle down on. The hall fills up gradually, while the singers take us to another realm altogether.
There is something about bhajans which remain tucked in tiny nooks of the memory, which rush out when I hear the first notes of the song, which make me sing and hum those almost forgotten notes and words. There is something about soaking in the vibes generated by happy hearts and gentle smiles while the singers sang with soul and devotion.
And then, finally, the delicious feast of Puris, pumpkin sabzi, channa and halwa. Served fresh and hot on the stone paved courtyard of his home, my friend moved among the crowd, checked on the puri-assembly-line, insisted on serving additional helpings and made each one of the 60 odd people feel like they were the special guest for the day.
What is it about a warm hearted, simple, genuine gathering which makes me go home counting my blessings and feeling ever so good about being alive?