(This story was first published on 5 March 2020 and has been republished in light of Holi 2021.)
This ‘Holi’ reminds me of an anecdote where a person reminisces about his school days. He nostalgically recalls his Hindi teacher Shukla ji, and his assignments asking students to write essays on upcoming festivals. In general, students used to begin the festival-specific essay with a prefatory line — “there are many national and cultural festivals but ‘this specific festival’ is very important and famous in India”.
One day, Shukla ji asked them to write an essay on Holi, instructing them clearly: “Everybody should write the essay themselves without cheating from kunji (guide).” Nevertheless, one kid went back home, picked up the guide, and copied the entire essay — shrugging off his teacher’s advice. Next day, Shukla ji asked him to read the essay aloud. He began reading the essay with full confidence: “Holi is a major festival of Hindus and it is celebrated in the month of Phalgun.” Shukla ji immediately told him to stop, and coming to his desk, enquired if he had copied this essay from a guide. When the student lied, Shukla ji slapped him across the face and told him: “Had you accepted your fault of cheating, I might have spared you today. But you deserved my slap as you falsely claimed that you wrote these lines yourself!”
‘Poets Are Neither Hindu Nor Muslim’
Moving on, Shukla ji asked Abdul, who was sitting next to him: “Abdul! Do you play Holi?” Before Abdul opened up, another student chimed in and said: “Sir! Abdul plays Holi more than us and if you check his bag, you can get the colours even now.” Shukla ji smiled, walked back to the blackboard and started to write a poem, ‘Tab Dekh Baharen Holi Ki’ on the blackboard. After completing the poem, Shukla ji asked, “Children! Do you know who wrote this poem?” The students were blank. Then Shukla ji told them that this poem was written by Nazeer Akbarabadi. “Do you know about Nazeer?” Shukla ji enquired again. After a pause, one student whispered: “By name it appears that he is some Muslim.”
Shukla ji asked that chap to come forward, pulled his ear and hammered home the fact that Nazeer Akbarabadi was a great poet of Hindustan. Poets are neither Hindu nor Muslim.
Their religion is just poetry. So are the festivals. They are not Hindu or Muslim. Festivals are just festivals. Later, Shukla ji made a correction in his copy with a red pen, “Holi is a major festival of Hindustanis.” At the end of the story, he concludes that his teacher not just corrected the essay on that day but beautifully taught them a valuable lesson for life.
Gearing Up For Holi
I could easily relate to this story as my favourite Hindi teacher was also one Shukla ji, and I was no less than ‘Abdul’ in my school days. Also, I grew up in a state employees’ colony where families from all walks of life stayed together in harmony. There, we used to celebrate all the festivals together — Diwali, Eid, Dussehra, or our favourite festival of colours — Holi. We, the kids, would impatiently start preparing for Holi right after Christmas. I remember egging on my parents for money to buy balloons, colours and water guns, days before Holi. We used to hide behind the pillars of the main gate of our colony to locate our targets and fling water balloons. Often, we missed the targets because of the fear that some stranger would come in complain to our parents.
Be that as it may, we used to still run back to our common ‘den’ just after throwing the balloons quickly without a damn in the world.
In Prayagraj, Holi is a two-day festival. During these two days, we kids used to splash water colours, throw colour-filled balloons and smear each other faces with colours. Elders used to greet the families by playing the dholak and other musical instruments while visiting residences till after noon. In the evening, I used to accompany my father on his bicycle to visit his friends. All the uncles made sure I got to enjoy the variety of Holi delicacies — gujiya, papad, dahi-vada etc. Now, due to professional obligations and travel, I often have to celebrate festivals in other cities away from home.
But I still try to be in my native place especially during Holi, where the revellers make sure nobody goes home clean.
Reminiscing the Holi Of My Youth
Last year, I reached my hometown on the day of Holi around 9 AM. One of my friends came to the railway station to pick me up. As soon as I came out of the station, I saw my entire school gang of friends getting out of a car. They all wished me a happy Holi in their own unique ways. From the station, we directly drove to one of our childhood friend’s houses, who would, every year, announce that he would go to his village to celebrate Holi with his grandparents. We believed him for a couple of years but later, we discovered that he would not go anywhere but would rather place himself under ‘house arrest’ to escape the colours.
India’s Culture & Consideration
Anyway, we reached his house and convinced him that nobody would apply colours on him. However, after some time, he himself did not spare anyone, and coloured us all! We have another sagacious friend, who becomes reticent and gives only weird smiles after having ‘thandai’ on Holi. Anyway, after our day’s fun, I rushed to my home with one of my friends, and pressed the doorbell. My family struggled to recognise us as we were drenched in colour.
The dear friend, who accompanied me to my home, is the same friend who used to wait for me outside the mosque if Holi happened to be on Friday, during my school days.
I salute the culture and consideration of our country and compatriots. On the lighter side, I apologise to my friends for revealing their ‘unique Holi gestures’ here. All I can say is... “bura na mano, Holi hai!”
(The author is director at an engineering and IT services company in Hyderabad and a columnist. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)