Came Basant but paala had not udant (the cold had not flown away). Came Holi and the ground below my mulberry tree, (shatoot) which used to be littered with green or purple caterpillar-like fruit in the past were still sprouting on its branches.
In the past I dreaded gangs of urchins waiting in ambush armed with pichkarees and buckets of coloured water to douse me red and blue. This year they were subdued. In past years on Holi I used to throw open my windows in the afternoon to let in the spring air and often switch on the ceiling fan. This year I kept my windows closely shut, and as the sun went down, had a log fire lit in the grate. I forgot about the full moon: it has the habit of shining in all its silvery splendour on Holi nights. I also missed watching the eclipse. Perhaps both were invisible because of the clouds.
Sitting snugly wrapped in my shawl I pondered over the much-touted theory of global warming. There is no doubt that we are fouling the atmosphere by emitting noxious gases. India is doing worse than other countries. We have more cows and buffaloes than any other country, which emit a lot of gas. And more politicians who pass gas from both ends and make other peoples’ lives miserable. No doubt somewhere glaciers are melting and seawaters rising. Perhaps some beaches of Bangladesh, Nicobar, Maldives and Lakshadweep are being submerged by a decimal of a millimetre of saline water but there are few signs of world warming in northern India.
On Holi snowfalls were reported in parts of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. And we had the wettest February in years beyond counting. All this made Holi a very damp affair. It called for a tot of a hot glass of bhang (hashish). As on previous Holis, Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan who sends me an gift for the festival sent me a packet painted over with patangs (kites) with some dry fruit but not an ounce of hashish.
Defeated by gadgets
While everyone else around me has kept pace with the fast moving world, I have been left behind, riding a slow-moving bullock-cart. I never learnt to use a typewriter. I write my stuff with a ballpoint pen on lined papers and pass it on to my faithful secretary-stenographer Lachhman Dass who is the only person who can decipher my writing. He makes many copies and sends them to newspapers. Between us we manage to do two syndicated articles every week and a couple of books every year.
The world of computers, faxes etc in which you can correct your copy as you go along, multiply them and despatch them to distant corners of the world are unknown to us. To avoid being harassed by telephone calls I acquired an answering machine. It worked for a couple of weeks before it conked out. Now I avoid sitting by the phone or just take it off the hook to be able to read and write undisturbed.
My rich-generous friend Nanak Kohli gave me a cordless and a matchbox size cellphone. I failed to operate either one. I have a sizeable collection of music tapes that I often play on my old-fashioned tape recorder. I bought it 40 years ago. Tapes went out of fashion to be replaced by golden hued discs. I receive them by the dozen — music, song, and recitation of poetry, films and plays. I don’t have the means of listening or watching them. I have an old fashioned TV set. All it needed was the press of one button followed by a choice from a cluster of buttons on the remote control to get the channel I wanted. I was often at the mercy of cable operators. Who changed channels without asking me?
My daughter replaced it by the latest offering by Tata Sky: many more channels with freedom of choice and another remote control with many more buttons to press. It’s been with me for over a month now, but I have yet to get a hang of it. I have to get my daughter over to get it going. She fiddles with all the options before she gets it going. I’ve learnt to do without it. The greatest heartbreak is the world satellite radio that my son and his lady friend gave me as a birthday gift. I got hooked on to the Maestro channel devoted to western classical music. I listened to it by the hour and had it on while having my siesta. Then it started making unholy noises — khar, khar, khar. I rang up my son in Mumbai to do something about it. I received dossiers of printed stuff from the satellite radio’s headquarters in Bangalore. They continued sending lots of material running into dozens of digits with instructions about what to do. I failed to make sense of them. Once a chap came to have a look at it. He brought it back to life for a couple of days and then it resumed its khar, khar, khar. It’s been lying dead for more than a month. By then I expect my subscription will have expired. Now I spend most of my non-working hours sitting in my back garden watching flowers and birds or indoors entombed in complete silence. I am beginning to find myself.
“In a thousand thousand households across Chennai, similar nightly charms and philtres against stopped bowels were being spooned into milk or curds or water. The enema bag is as much a sign of true Brahminhood as the sacred thread. Indeed, in many poonal or sacred thread ceremonies, the responsible parent draws his son aside and hands over, along with the esoteric Gayatri mantra, a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, the life insurance, and other such signs of being twice-born, his own personal secret prophylactic against constipation. ‘Fleaseed husk, o best beloved’, he says, in a hushed voice: of ‘Castor oil, my first –born son….’; or ‘Evacueeze, o child of my loins; three heaped table-spoons in a glass of sour buttermilk morning and night.”
(Srividya Natarajan in ‘No Onions Nor Garlic, Penguin)