Saturday, 19 March 2011

The night before Holi

The loud speakers blared with Bollywood music. You know, the "hits" and the "chartbuster" type remixes, ones that end up making more money than what the original films do. They were interspersed with some Marathi tracks as well, the very popular ones, and some which were rip-offs of certain Bollywood remixes.  Such musical...extravaganzas are a regular feature in these parts, especially on occasions like elections, Ganesh pandals, birthday parties of some politician's kids- a memorable evening and some good entertainment, I suppose...for some votes in return, of course. As if that's a crime? Not in these parts, at least. 
Tonight's occasion is Holi – the festival of colours. 

For a large portion of my life, Holi was a favourite festival; the community coming together, visiting relatives, colouring their faces, and painfully scrubbing the colours off your skin (and hoping that you wouldn't have to use kerosene, or ghazlet, as they call it here). It was a perfect getaway from the mundane routines of life; to freak out, as one might aptly describe it. 
Obviously, playing with colours was more exciting than the bonfire. Nonetheless, I tried not missing the bonfire. The uncles in the neighbourhood collected dried coconut leaves and branches, and would try to make the pile more aesthetically pleasing; once, they'd even put an effigy of Holika. They were often helped by their kids, who tried juggling duties with a game of tag, and later, cricket. 

The next day was battleground for us: me and a few friends would take on our neighbours' kids in what we called the ''Holi Wars''; we'd prepare our arsenal weeks in advance, and fortify our 'base camp'. Water balloons became grenades, and the pichkari a sub-machine gun. People who came out dressed were never spared; I mean, who in their right mind goes out dressed on Holi?
I don't think we ever won; we often got outnumbered four against one. But, that was the closest I got to being John Rambo, with the war paint on face and all.

Today, those kids I played with are some politician’s workforce; they still set up the bonfire with their fathers and uncles, but the political undertones aren't as subtle as they once were; or perhaps, I’m now old enough to understand that. 
We’re not friends now; more so acquaintances- flashing a smile when I meet them on the street, or when they come over with a signature petition for some cause- coexisting peacefully on the same street, and neighbourhood. 
The friend I used to play with became a pain-in-the-neck, obsessed with money, pubs and high-end cell phones; I haven’t heard from the second guy for over seven years. Don’t know if he’s a politician’s right-hand or a tech-geek; though, I’d prefer the latter.
Needless to say, on this particular night I wanted to avoid the noise, and all my old friends. 

I found myself in a different neighbourhood, a quieter one. I haven't been to these parts in ages. A few kids ran past me, spraying water on each other, laughing. They probably had exams the next day, but heck, like that ever stopped kids?
Their fathers and uncles were stacking dried leaves and branches on the bonfire; they could aptly be described as merry and happy. Their mothers and grandmothers, not wanting to miss out any of the fun, were outdoors too. Just the way a community is supposed to be, almost like one of those serials they air on SAB TV.
I couldn't see any political hoardings, however, which were rather conspicuous by their absence. No fancy registration-plates claiming political allegiances either. Just people who value this event, and share it with   each another and their children. 

I walked on, thinking, 'how would Prahlad feel about his bonfire being lit by some corrupt politician?' But for a moment there, I forgot that's what his father was, wasn't he? A corrupt demon-king, ultimately slayed by the forces of good?
Holi, as we wrote in essays, symbolized the victory of good over evil, and all sorts of idealistic nonsense. I think it's an excuse for people with power (and lots of money) to throw lavish gatherings...I don't visit my relatives, who'd want to ruin a good holiday? 
Those neighbours still play Holi, or maybe they don't. I haven't noticed really; guess they're all mature now and think it naive to be nostalgic. I'd agree on that. 

Call it a cliche, but times change and so do people, for the better or for worse; that's not for me to decide. They do, occasionally enjoy a game of cricket, albeit with swearing and profane references. 
Maybe, I'm too judgmental on them. Or perhaps, a tad bit cynical. 

Ah, the loud music again- 'Sheila ki jawani' this time; how appropriate. I just hope they keep to the 10 pm deadline. As if I care; I'd probably shut the windows, and watch a movie, get up late in the morning, and laze around a bit more.
I mean, who in their right minds goes out dressed on Holi?

Monday, 7 March 2011

Old times, forgotten places

Being indoors was killing me. I'm not usually an outdoorsy-adventurous kind of person; but I like my share of hiking, football, walks and travelling (more so commuting). So, after three days of studying efforts, I decided it has high time I took a little walk, nothing too fancy; just around the neighbourhood.
It's a funny world we live in. Normally, I'm a bit of a social recluse, preferring to be out when people arrive, and being in when the rest of the clan pushes off to someplace. But, while walking down the road in front of my house, I felt there was a method to my madness.

Eight-thirty in the night is not exactly a respectable time for an evening walk, especially in respectable neighbourhoods.
It was a Monday night, so as it stands to reason, most of the people were tired after a hard day's work. The houses were quiet, with the permissible TV, of course; switching between news and soap-operas. Even the strays seemed tired. Maybe, I thought, that was the mass mood; or perhaps, it was the caffeine in my system.
I took a turn and entered a cul de sac, the alley obstructed by trees and foliage, with a 50 foot drop beyond that. Thankfully, there was a streetlight.
An old man lived there, many years back; and died there too. I don't remember what his name was, but he had a dog, a ferocious one. Bingo, I think his name was. Yes, I was afraid  to cycle here; almost got bitten once. The house still existed, now consumed by dust and trees and reptiles; nature claiming what was once it’s.
Poor Bingo. I wonder what happened to that ferocious son-of-a-bitch.

The street parallel to ours had changed. A lot.
I could see at least three new buildings, one housed a coaching class; but there was a building, which is as old as I am; probably older. A constant in a changing world.
I walked further.

I had a friend who lived there once, nice chap. He lived with his grandmother and cousins, in a lovely bungalow; my mother once said it was very Goan. Yes, even I thought so.
We friends used to climb over the walls, enter the neighbouring buildings; it was our sport, a retreat. Sort of like a Quest World, you know. We used to get yelled at, barked at; once chased, too. But heck. We were kids. That's what kids were supposed to do.

Today a lavish building complex stood there, still under construction, right where the Goan bungalow once stood. Not even a coconut tree remained. So much for a Goan experience, I suppose.
Where he and his family are right now, I don't know. Until this moment, I don't think I even cared.
They're probably at a congested flat somewhere in Thane, or a MHADA colony. Or, if fortunate, a Goan bungalow somewhere in the outskirts of Bombay; I mean, further away from where I am right now.
The walls of the buildings were there where used to be. My hands itched, I could feel the cement scraping under my palms, the heavy breathing, the sweaty clothes. And the people yelling behind us. Just a little hop and a skip, that's all. No chance; the walls have been raised and now have barbed wire fences. A classic case of ''good fences make good neighbours'' I guess.
Besides, I'd probably end up spooking an old couple. Not cool.

A motorbike entered the alley, and a man disembarked. I could hear the sound of the TV from his humble chawl-like house; a 70s Amitabh Bachchan film, I think.
God, they still air those movies? And people still watch them?

He was looking at me rather suspiciously. I didn't know him; he is new around here, maybe. That's why I think he didn't know me. Oh, damn. How will he? Where do I ever socialize?
He was still suspicious. Darn, I know why: there was a spate of break-in attempts here a few weeks back. A teenager in a black shirt and jeans, unshaven: a likely suspect on a reconnaissance mission. It’s weird how they suspect good people in their neighbourhoods.
Then again, I don't quite fit the bill of a good 'neighbour' now, do I?
I quickened my pace and left for home. No point in spooking people. Last thing they (and I) want is to raise an alarm, only to discover a loner minding his business, at nine in the night. Right.

Ah, home. Dinner was ready, but I wasn't hungry. Just thought of a blog post. I entered the gate, the strays gave a warm and welcoming look, the first one in the last half hour. I latched the gates and checked the locks once again.
Good fences, after all, make good neighbours, don't they?