Every Holi has its cherishable memories. My favourite goes back to a decade ago when I taught at a military boarding school in Himachal Pradesh. The harsh Himalayan winter had given way to warmer days and the whole school had converged in the ground to celebrate the festival of colours.
From the principal to teachers to students to peons and the mess staff, everyone was coloured in bright hues but there was one student who didn't participate in the celebrations. She was 12-year-old Nancy. I noticed that while hundreds of children around her were running riot with colours and spraying water on each other, she watched them expressionless. She sat quietly on a railing of the playground all by her self and no one seemed to notice her. One look and I guessed she was missing her parents.
Being a teacher in a boarding school, it was common to come across children missing their parents, particularly on festivals. In many cases, children suffered from detachment and other emotional issues. Sometimes I would wonder why any parent would send his/her child to a boarding school? From my experience, I can say while some parents take the conscious decision to send their children away at a young age believing it's for the best; others simply get so caught up in their busy lives that they find it easier to leave their children in boarding schools.
Since I was familiar with Nancy's family background, I was aware that her parents were divorced and that she was being raised by her mother who was abroad. I went up to the girl and asked her if her mother had called to wish her on Holi. Without lifting her head, she said, "No". When she did look up, she had tears in her eyes. After a while, she told me that she wanted to go home as she was missing her mother and that she had been waiting for her call since morning.
Children in boarding schools are allowed to call up home on special occasions. So I asked Nancy if she would want to call up her mother. She told me that she had tried but the school's telephone booth was closed.
Holi is all about happiness and smiles. How could I let her be sad? So I took permission from the principal and arranged for her to speak with her mother. I watched from a distance as they had a long conversation. She talked, cried and was smiling by the end of the call. She announced later that her mother would be coming to see her soon. With a big smile on the face, she wished me a happy Holi and went running to the playground. I asked her if she still wanted to go home to which she replied, "I think I'm fine here."
And with that, she joined the colour and celebration as hundreds of students played, sang and danced. I realised that sometimes a conversation with a loved one can fill all the colour in our lives. Happy Holi!