Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rang de Basanti!

It started with mysterious ink stains on my school uniform. They were as unavoidable as the sleazy news on TOI website these days. Probably the heydays for those fountain pens which otherwise fared miserably throughout the year. Small squirt-injections were smuggled in classrooms as preludes to the funky squirt guns being prepared for the actual event. The five minute walk to my house from school turned out to be a game of Dodge-Balloon as the strategically aimed water-containers (a mark of respect to the new ultra-thin plastic bags) always found a spot that hurt the most. Thankfully, the tallest building enroute was only four storeys high, else Newton might have recoiled in horror to witness the bloodshed unleashed by free-falling projectiles.

As my mother and grandma tucked their pallu in, gearing up to make world's most delicious puran polis; I began stocking up my resources for the inevitable. A huge bag of gulaal, large packets of washable colors, tiny sachets of permanent colors, long-distance Spiderman squirt gun (though I fancied the one attached to 2 barrels of water hung on your shoulder) and a heart of steel. Dusk set in, and Papa picked up a peeled coconut as we set out to the big field near Ganpati temple. My heart raced as the familiar sounds of dholak reached my ears. It was time to light the bonfire, and my hands were itching to toss the coconut in the blaze and bask in its warmth. Neatly piled stacks of branches and hay, splashed with petrol embraced fire to devour the evil Holika as we kids, ran around it, yelled at by our respective folks to stay away from the leaping flames. It was a sheer delight to see the coconut shells turn into embers and scrape off the last bits of barbequed flesh from their insides. An hour or two, and we retraced our steps back home with tiny fires leaping in our tummies thinking about the next day.

Rang Panchami dawned with much fervor. The sun hadn't peeked into our side of the world yet, and we were already up and filling up balloons on a war footing. One down, two down, three splash, four down, five phussss... every house had all members monopolizing every single tap there was to be found. The water grenades floated merrily in color water buckets as we loaded our pockets with color sachets. War cries rang from the entire building as we raced downstairs to meet our illusory enemies. Balloons flew in and out, few missed, few were caught and thrown back in retaliation. But most met their true destiny. A dash of yellow on the forehead, few blobs of pink in the hair, splashes of green on the cheeks, a red nose and blue earlobes. In no time, color and water met in the most unlikeliest of crevices on our shivering bodies. And just when it seemed like the battle was over, blitzkrieg set in...

Older kids swooped in with the swiftness of a facebook 'like'.  We were hosted in air like little sacks of grain, and carried over to the backyard to be roughed up in accumulated mud puddles. A few lucky ones made their way into the tank the building construction workers had temporarily set up. To add insult to injury, all our weapons were confiscated and used against us. A pinch of permanent color in the hair, and a whole week was doomed, trying to rub it off your skin. But the spirit of holi outlasted all animosity and soon, we were filling buckets and guns with water from the colony tap (suspiciously, whose lock was nowhere to be found). Some elders gave in to their innate desires of joining in the fun, and sprayed water cannons from indoors. A bunch of kids with overprotective moms, had their share of sadistic pleasure by dropping water grenades from their barricaded balconies. Thoroughly exhausted from the ordeal, tiny feet made their way to their flats where their folks picked up the brats like foul rats, and dropped them in the bathroom.

But it was far from over. The punter-junta gathered in balconies facing the roadside aggregating their resource pool. The final battle was against all hapless pedestrians who happened to come in the way of our incessant shellfire. Most of the victims had one eye up on the low rises. But, all in all, it was a game of skill and accuracy. Soldiers who found their targets were applauded, ones who didn't were ridiculed. We laughed out loud not lol'ed, we blushed red and not as an emoticon. Those were the times when our fingers knew the feel of a rubber balloon and not plastic keys, our eyes knew the shades that different colors create when combined and our hearts jumped at the impact of a well-aimed balloon and not at a virtual balloon thrown at you with 372 mph velocity. Those were the times, when we truly lived...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pitter Patter

I lie on the bed spreadeagled, eager to enter the 'The chamber of secrets' in a cozy cottage overlooking the Lonavala dam. It's the end of May, and the long drive in the scorching sun has made me itchy all over. I look out the window lazily spotting the sunlit green hill in front of the lake. I read a few pages and glance out again. The hill is gone! Not a trace! I sprint to the balcony as I realize that its been covered by a giant pale white cloud. A drop on my cheek, a two on my arm. Nature is drawing in its breath to begin its most melodious symphony, as I rush outdoors in anticipation... As I look up, the heavens let go of their momentary hesitation and the rain pours over the parched land as I jump in glee with four other kids from neighboring blocks.


We walk down the rain soaked streets from college to the station. Our tongues are still savoring the sweet taste of the two-rupee cutting chai from VJTI canteen, when we see the corn-seller grilling juicy corn cobs on his cart. We waft at him riding on the fumes of amul butter, delighted to see him after a span of 8 months. Being picky, we ignore the newly arrived sweet yellow corn and go for the old-fashioned pale white corn imploring him to make it extra chatpata! We twiddle our fingers in sheer impatience as he grills the cobs on red hot coals and rubs a dash of butter on them before the customary slice of lemon dipped in salt, pepper and chili powder. A few notes of ten exchange our soiled hands and we bite into the molested delicacies.


26 July 2004. I am sitting in the computer lab after a tiring math lecture, jabbing away at the keyboard to finish a project report. Professor walks by behind me as he implores me to go home, warning of a railway shutdown due to the heavy downpour. I check the time to see its been two hours since I checked in. What could have possibly happened? I pack my bag and walk out in the corridor, only to watch agape at the sight below. The entire quads is flooded with knee deep water with few students wading through, and some playing basketball. I start walking towards the hostel to find my friend as my folks urge me over the cellphone to stay at aaji's place on matunga west. I am in half mind to stay at the hostel only to find his room locked, and others abandoned. Two other classmates stuck in the same predicament, join me as I start walking towards the station. We bump into a few hostelites enroute who seem to be having a gala time in the flooded streets. As the water gets deeper, I pick up a stick to poke at the road wary of an open manhole. As we enter the waist deep water near the station's Z-bridge, I empty my pant pockets into my backpack pulled high up over my shoulder. On the overhead bridge we look down the railway lines to see no remnants of the tracks, and stranded trains. An hour later, the picture turns out a tad different on the west side due to the higher ground level. Along with my cronies, I enter my grandma's chawl fidgeting to find the door keys in my bag. As I close the door behind us, I turn on the tiny TV to witness the mayhem unleashed by the flash clouds on Mumbai - the city that finally came to a standstill bowing to nature's fury.