Sep 22, 2008

Colourful Chaos

(Here's the script I used for Project 5 of Toastmasters at the Chennai Covansys Toastmasters Club [CCTM]. Won the Best Speaker prize for this one too :-). Do read through and leave me your valuable comments.)

Two dozen eggs… three bottles of coconut oil… 10 packets of natural colour… water as required. No, I am not demonstrating some delicious egg-based recipe, I am just reviewing our checklist for the next Holi celebration.

Holi as we all know is the festival of colours. It is a very popular festival up North. It is usually celebrated over two days starting with the burning of the demoness Holika in a huge bonfire at night. The next day is called Dhulhendi – where people spend the day throwing coloured powder and water at each other. Thandai is a popluar refresher that people prepare and drink during that day. Bhang – an intoxicant made from hemp leaves is added to the thandai – to add more spirit to the festive spirit perhaps!!!

I think that is enough of an introduction to a festival which probably by now quite clearly comes across as my favourite festival. Well… before I continue let me say that Holi is not only NOT my favourite festival but also it is one festival that I dread the most.

Holi was celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm in our residential colony in Bombay. Kids of all ages along with the parents would have loads of fun throwing coloured powder on each other and spraying coloured water with their pichkaris. Teenaged boys would get this tank like box filled with coloured water and would literally pick up everyone and throw them into the tank. It is an unwritten rule about Holi – no one can be less coloured than the other. Some of the coloured uncles and aunties would go around visiting homes to apply the traditional tikka of gulal or red powder… never once did I oblige them. What begins as a tikka on the forehead ends up leaving you all coloured… cannot really blame them… must be the bhang in action!!!

As a kid… well to be honest… even as a grown up kid, I would literally lock myself in my room or sometimes the bathroom to stay away from all this chaos in colour. All that I’ve described is what I managed to see from behind the curtains of my closed windows. They say that time is the best healer… but for me this fear of Holi just keeps increasing every year. I would like to share one recent Holi experience at this point.

This happened when I was studying in Pune. My roommates Jyoti and Kavneet – both from North India – were fretting over the fact that they were not able to play Holi that year because we had an exam on the following day. I was so secretly happy!!!

We were busy with our books. It was around 2 pm in the afternoon when Jyoti’s mobile rang. She picked up the phone. It was another batchmate, Mayank. He wanted some book for the next day’s exam. Mayank was from our group… but you know when it is Holi I do not take any chances. Seeing the fear on my face, Jyoti covered the handset and checked if I thought it was a hoax. I nodded my head even before she finished asking. But Mayank sounded genuine on the phone. He said they had already finished playing Holi in the morning and that he had just finished his bath and lunch and was walking towards our house to collect the book. Jyoti was convinced. Though she missed playing Holi she was in no mood to get wet and coloured because she had loads to study. But she was convinced.

I still had my doubts. Boys - you can never trust… and trusting them on Holi is like a huge gamble!!! I took the lead in helping Jyoti pack up the book. We wrapped the book in a lot of newspaper, fastened it with a rubber band and then put it in a plastic bag.

In Pune, landlords come up with these silly rules for female tenants… one of their favourites being ‘Boys not Allowed’. Our building was a little inside the compound with a long narrow stretch of road to walk to the main gate. Jyoti was supposed to meet Mayank at the gate and hand over the book. I watched from the balcony as she approached the gate. I do not know what prompted her to be cautious, but when she reached the gate she slowed down and took a peek outside on the right side first and then towards the left. I was proud of her for being so cautious. The next moment she turned back and began running as fast as she could. In the same moment some 20 coloured creatures were chasing her. The next moment poor Jyoti was drenched in colour. I was stunned and I began yelling for help. Kavneet also rushed to the balcony. She was able to identify those boys… they were our batchmates – Mayank included. All I could risk for my room mate was to stay put in the balcony and call out for her. It was a well calculated risk – they could not get me coloured even though I was in an open balcony without curtains - we lived on the fifth floor… if nothing else at least gravity would save me from getting coloured.

Poor Jyoti came back home in some time. It didn’t look like she was out only for a few minutes. They had even broken eggs on her head and it was dripping all over. The boys waited for some more time… outside the gate. They were forcing Kavneet and me to go down and get coloured for 5 mins to avoid fatal consequences later. For me, those 5 minutes were fatal and we did not relent. ‘Boys not allowed’ made sense for once!

I definitely appreciate the spirit of fun about Holi, but when it comes to all this colourful chaos, please count me out. If you have your checklist in place… advance wishes to all of you for the next Holi and the many more to come. I would never risk wishing you in person anyway.

(Special thanks to Jyoti, Kavneet, Mayank and the rest of the coloured creatures who let me use their names without their permission :P)

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