I can feel and smell that Holi is near.
The festival is celebrated in spring, a short but pleasant transitional season between winter and summer.
Spring mornings are crisp. The cool breeze in the early hours is heavy with the fragrance of flowers that blossom in spring. As the day progresses the brightness of the sun increases and you feel the heat. You are drowsy in the afternoon. Nights are once again cool. You know winter is on the wane and a hot summer is just weeks away.
I don’t have to bark like Gabbar Singh, ‘Holi kab hai? Kab hai Holi? Kab?’ or check the calendar for Holi.
I love Holi. Anybody who has grown up in north India loves Holi.
In my childhood Holi for me was synonymous with sprinkler; the sprinkler that was also common at barber’s.
I would rummage through the things in the storeroom and fish my sprinkler a fortnight before Holi. I would clean it and check if it needed any repair.
My next task would be to get a bottle for the sprinkler. Empty liquor bottles were best suited for sprinklers.
But my father was (and is) a teetotaller and finding an empty liquor bottle at home would be impossible.
I would pester my mother for a bottle.
She would ask the neighbour living on our right. He was a teetotaller. Mother would ask the neighbour on our left. He was an alcoholic but drank only in bars and never at home.
My mother would finally stop a scrap dealer passing by our house. He would have liquor bottles of different sizes and shapes. I would check each bottle by fitting the sprinkler.
After securing the bottle, I would start looking for used batteries. I would tear them open and grind the black chemical of the battery to fine powder. I would mix the powder with kerosene and make a gooey paste that looked like grease.
I would smear the faces of my friends with the paste on Holi. They would not object despite the fact that paste looked dirty and noxious. Those were childhood days.
I would leave home at 9 a.m. and return at 1 p.m. completely drenched in coloured water. There would be layers of paint, varnish, grease and adhesive on my face. It would take days to get rid of those colours and chemicals.
Last year a friend visited me on the day of the festival. He smeared dry colour on my face and hugged me.
As he hugged me, I felt something hard tucked under his belt. After he released me, I felt the thing with the back of my hand and asked, ‘What’s it?’
He lifted his shirt, exposed a bottle of rum and grinned.
I celebrate Holi but not in the way as I used to celebrate earlier.
Now I usually stay at home on the day of the festival and my friends drop in.
Earlier I used coloured water but now I buy dry colours.
Once I frantically scouted for empty liquor bottles. Today you can find many empty bottles in my house. But I do not care for them. Times have changed.
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Indians celebrate hundreds of festivals but Bollywood is enamoured only with Holi. I can recall several Holi songs but no Diwali song.
I feel the best Holi song is ‘Holi ke din dil _ _ _ _’ from Sholay (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfQviNomcoA). Kishore Kumar has sung not only for Dharmendra but also for the male extras at the beginning of the song. Amitabh Bachchan plays the role of a poker-faced character in the film. But he also lets his hair down and dances in his quintessential style for a few seconds.