It’s Holi again, thought Karamjit Singh. The festival reminded him of only one person—his son…as if he had been able to forget about him even for a second, for the past year, he thought.
“Baoji, I want to buy colors for Holi,” demanded his six year old grandson Sahaj.
“No puttar, you know, we have decided never to celebrate Holi,” Karamjit Singh tried to cajole the child.
“Why Baoji? My teacher was telling me that Holi is a festival of colors and everyone throws colors on everyone and have fun. You know we are going to have chutti in school for Holi,” persisted Sahaj as only a child can.
For Karamjit it was a festival of death and all his happy recollections of the festival were marred by the death of his son alongwith other 34 sikhs of the village last year. He remembered last year’s holi. He and his son Pammy along with Sahaj had gone to the market a day before holi to make purchases for the festival. How happy Pammy had been, unaware of the tragedy that awaited him and his family.
“Baoji, I want to buy you a nice kurta-pajama with embroidery. You select for yourself and please do it fast since we have to buy gujia also otherwise that wife of mine is going to kill me,” said Pammy.
“No, puttar there is no need for all this. I don’t need a kurta pajama. If I need one I will tell you. Let’s buy a dress for Sahaj. His birthday is also coming,” saying this Karamjit entered a shop followed by his son and grandson.
That was the last day he had spend with his only son, Paramjit or Pammy as he was popularly called.
Inspite of himself, Karamjit was now angry with his grandson. He looked harshly at Sahaj and said, “but don’t you remember that we won’t ever play holi,” angry at the thought that the memories of his son were going to die with him. But he had to live for as long as possible… for his grandson. Sahaj’s mother had a nervous breakdown after Pammy’s death and was not even capable of looking after herself leave alone of looking after her son.
Karamjit was in a dilemma ever since. At his age he knew he couldn’t live for long and then who would look after his daughter-in-law and grandson.
He was suddenly angry with himself for scolding Sahaj. He was still a child and didn’t understand the illogical and unimaginable strokes of destiny.
Sahaj would have had picnics and games with his parents, would have learned to ride bicycle with his father, would have gone for a holiday with them, would have had birthday parties and visits to bazars, would have had diwali with crackers and mithai and would have celebrated holi with colors.… Now, he had a depressed grandfather and an absent mother for company.
Sahaj woke his grandfather from his reverie with “Baoji, Sunny is calling me. Can I go and play with him? Please let me go. I will finish my homework after I come back.”
“OK, go but come back soon.”
Sunny was the boy next door and also Pammy’s classmate. Shared background and shared tragedy had created a strong bond between them. Most of the time they couldn’t understand what their parents or grandparents were talking about but they could sense
some tension and really didn’t know what to make of it.
“You know Sahaj, my mother is thinking of working. Baoji was crying and saying that he doesn’t want my mother to work but after papa went away he doesn’t have a choice,”
“But what is your mother going to do? I have never seen women working in our village,”
“Oh I don’t know,” said Sunny, “it was confusing and I couldn’t hear the whole conversation but my grandfather was saying, `at this age I’ll have to leave my ancestral home and go and start living in a strange place’ and then Baoji hugged me and said, `Rab rakha puttar, rab rakha’. What does all this mean?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been asking Baoji to buy me color for holi but he won’t. Instead he started scolding me” said Sahaj throwing the ball at Sunny.
“But don’t you know that our village has decided never to celebrate holi again. Baoji told me last year terrorist came and killed Sikhs of our village. They killed your father and mine as well and because of that our village is never going to celebrate holi. And this year we are going to have Akhand Path at Gurudwara,” said Sunny.
“What is a terrorist?”
“I am not very sure but he is someone who comes with gun and kills people,”
By now Sunny was losing interest in the conversation and said, “let’s play” and the two boys started playing. The game came to an end only when their guardians called them inside so that they could started working on their homework and get ready for the class the next day.
Holi was on the minds of almost everyone—adults as well as children, for different reasons though. Children noticed that the expressions of adults changed as soon as they mentioned the festival. In fact, they wouldn’t have even come to know that holi was round the corner but for a chapter on the festival in their syllabus. And now they wanted to play Holi without realizing the un-erasable wound it had left on their mostly female guardians.
Sunny and Sahaj were subconsciously aware of their changed circumstances and knew that they were different from other families in the locality. Sahaj instinctively knew that his aunt was different from his mother. His aunt, living in a nearby village used to wear make-up and was always trying to make new dishes and was always keen to take Sahaj for an outing.
“Baoji, why doesn’t mummy dress-up like massi? Why doesn’t she wear nice clothes and laugh like her?” asked Sahaj.
“Because she is not well, puttar. You’ll have to take care of her when I am not here. She is so sick she can’t take care of herself,”
“Baoji, are we also going to leave our village and live in Jammu,” Sahaj asked.
“I don’t know, puttar. I don’t what fate has in store for you. You mustn’t think about all these things. God will take care of you,”
“Sahaj, Sahaj are you coming to play,” shouted Sunny from outside the house.
“Baoji, can I go and play with Sunny.”
“Go but come back soon.”
Sahaj rushed out of the house to be with his only companion. They both offered each other a break from their dismal domestic circumstances.
“You know, we would be leaving this village the next week after Holi. We won’t be able to meet then. Will you write to me, Sahaj,” said Sunny.
“Why don’t you stay with us Sunny? I am sure Baoji will have no objection. Then we can always be together,”
“But I can’t live without my mother and Baoji was saying that I am quiet grown up now and that I’ll have to look after my mother,”
“You know, my Baoji was also saying the same thing to me. May be then we would also be coming to Jammu and then we can meet every evening and play together,”
“Yes, that’ll be nice. Come let’s play now,”
Both Sunny and Sahaj were aware of the impending separation between them. At one level, they were even hoping that it won’t happen.
“Baoji, why don’t you tell Sunny’s Baoji and mother to not to leave this village.”
“At least they have an option of leaving puttar. My dilemma is that I don’t know for how long you and your mother are going to survive on my small pension.”
“But you can convince Sunny’s mother to leave Sunny with us. He can stay with us and we can always be together,”
“No, puttar. It’s not possible. I met Sunny’s Baoji today and they have no option but to go. You must realise that sometimes one has to do things one doesn’t like or want.”
“But who will I play with, Baoji?”
Karamjit had no answer. Finally the day to leave Chittisingpura came for Sunny. Sahaj and Sunny promised to write to each other and visit occasionally, if possible.
Sahaj’s father along with a number of other villagers came to see them off at the station. Sunny’s mother and grandfather were in tears. And Sunny was confused and withdrawn. Sahaj bade goodbye to Sunny and returned home.
That evening he threw his ball in the village pond.