Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Those Holi days: Of Balloons, Ghevar and a childhood gone by

Holi has never been my favourite festival. No, that spot has always belonged to Diwali and Durga Puja. Holi, as of now, has lost all its colour (no pun intended) for me. However, whenever this festival is round the corner, I tend to revisit a few moments of it from my past. The past where I had some fond memories of this festival, which, when I think of it now, are indelible.

When I look back at the Holi from my past, there are a few facets of it which I connect with the most: the balloons, the holika dahan, the lazy afternoons and, above all, the lip-smacking ghevar. Smearing colored powder on each other wasn’t something that caught my fancy and I did it unenthusiastically, just out of custom. But these other facets had a certain allure to them that made the festival worth it for me.

The Holika dahan (the burning of a pyre on the eve of Holi) was a memory I fondly associate with the festival. Though the tradition has a lot of mythology and rituals attached to it, for me, it was sheer fun and awe to observe the huge gathering of people in my neighbourhood throw in an assortment of things inside the burning pyre and then take circles around it religiously. The pyre would be massive, colossal at times, and appeared like a giant bonfire to me in those days. The neighbourhood women would chant songs and we would all laugh and dance around the raging fire late into the night. Nice moments they were.

The balloons, of course, were the one thing that actually made Holi genuinely fun. Filling up balloons with water early on the Holi mornings was what would get me going. The balloons were stored in buckets and I, along with my cousins, would then prepare for ‘balloon wars’ with our neighbours from the buildings across from us. It was super fun; all the ducking, aiming and getting hit. The pichkari would make an entry every now and then, but I wasn’t really much into it. The balloon wars more than made up my staple for Holi entertainment.

After the balloon wars would be done, there wouldn’t be many activities left to do in the afternoon. A hush would envelop our neighbourhood during the daytime; the silence being punctured every now and then by the para hooligans drenched in the gaudiest of Holi colors. Drunk from an overdose of bhaang, these ruffians would sing loudly and dance merrily, while I would watch them keenly from the vantage point of my verandah. That was a perfect position for me to spend my lazy Holi afternoons. After having spent an eventful morning, with a smear of color on my cheeks, I would just place myself on a chair in my verandah and gaze outside at the empty streets. The balmy March breeze would ruffle my damp hair and make me droopy. But the excitement of the after-exam phase and knowing well that it wouldn’t last long, would egg me on to make the most of the moment.

There was one thing about Holi, though, that stands out tall above everything else. Ghevar, the lip-smacking syrupy sweet is what defined Holi in my childhood. I used to call it ‘bada jalebi’ (large jalebi) because of its curious shape which was quite similar to a jalebi and would gorge on it ravenously throughout the day on Holi. My mother, the wonderful cook that she was, would diligently go about with the preparations of this sweet the night before the festival, and, on the big day, would serve it out to the entire family. To really relish ghevar, one has to consume it along with a bowl of dahi (curd). The Rajasthani delicacy is really sweet in taste and having it after dipping it in dahi balances the taste splendidly.

So smitten was I with this crispy sweet that I simply couldn’t have enough of it. In fact, ghevar would serve as my breakfast, lunch and dinner on Holi day and I remember my mother only half-heartedly telling me not to have so much of it. I knew that secretly, she loved serving them to me throughout the day. “Would you like to have one more?” she would ask me with a twinkle in her eyes after placing one ghevar on my plate. While munching on it and letting the sweet syrup engulf my mouth, I would hold my plate towards her and say happily, “Yes please!” Sure, having such amounts of the sweet throughout the day would often lead to upset stomachs the day after. However, they would be worth it. Oh yes, they would be! I have been crazy about a lot of food delicacies in my life, but ghevar – or the ghevar made by my mother to be precise – shall always hold a very prominent place in my life. I yearn, I pine for having the very same ghevar, just one more time.

And today, as I reflect back on this festival, I realize that Holi doesn’t have any significance left for me any longer. The festival just remains a holiday these days and nothing more. Perhaps an unlikely day will come in the future where I would be able to enjoy it again. For now, all I have left of this festival are the memories of it from my past which I look back on from time to time as they also remind me of a childhood gone by; a childhood glittered with some very simple yet special moments where Holi played a small yet significant part.

As I write this, I remember I had received a box of ghevar from a friend earlier in the day (which I got after much coaxing and cajoling I must say). It seems like the perfect time to have it and I open the box to find four pieces of the delicious sweet cramped in. I smell it and my senses are immediately tickled. I break a small part of the one placed at the top and try it. It is crunchy and quite syrupy. Though not at the same level of my mother’s, this one comes eerily close.

A waft of a languid breeze blows in from the window near me and I close my eyes to savor the taste of the delicious sweet. It has a distinct flavor; an aroma which immediately takes me back to my childhood. I can almost feel myself sitting leisurely in the balcony of my childhood home again; where I am munching on a ghevar with great gusto. I see my mother walking up to me with a twinkle in her eyes and asking me, “Would you like to have one more?” I open my eyes, take another piece from the box, and before placing it in my mouth again, quietly say, “Yes please!”