Our society secretary sent out a mail a couple of days back, informing us that the Holi bonfire would be burned last evening, and the celebration with colours on the morning thereafter, i.e. today. Not knowing quite what to expect, my wife and I decided to go to the bonfire.
There was a big crowd of folks all around the fire. When we'd started, my wife called up her mother and asked her what we were supposed to do at a Holi celebration. "Offer some money at the pooja," she said. "Take some mamraa, and sindoor, and..." but my wife had forgotten everything except the money part by the time the conversation was over. So I had some money in my pocket.
As we got closer, it became obvious that the crowd was almost entirely composed of North Indians. All young couples, some with little kids - the typical profile of the new Bangalore citizen. Our society is a pretty posh place, so lots of folks in Bermudas, cargoes, snazzy clothes, babies in prams, et al. I looked around for the Pooja thali, where I've usually been instructed to put money in, during previous religious functions.
There wasn't one. A couple of sari-clad ladies had their pooja thalis, and were just walking away from the fire having completed their ritual, but these were obviously not society-wide poojas. The noise level was lower than usual in crowds this size. A few folks were capturing the fire and the crowds on their handycams.
Someone began to walk around the fire, hands in a namaskar, lips mumbling a prayer. Three more people followed him. Many, many others looked at each other, unsure of whether they were supposed to do that. The girl next to me asked her husband if he wanted to do it. He replied with a laugh, "I could, but don't expect me to do this seven times." They finally stayed put.
There was an awkward silence, when all the conversations in a room stop suddenly. It struck me that no one here really knew what they were supposed to do for the Holi pooja. They'd seen their parents do something, and were gathered here hoping that someone would do it all and they would follow the lead. But here they were the parents. Worse, everyone was from a different state, so probably there was no common thing, no ritual, no comforting pattern, that everyone could fall back on. It was probably like this in every big society in Bangalore, this evening. The fire burned on, the only one here who knew what its job was.
A mobile phone began to ring, somewhere behind me. A voice answered it with a palpable sense of relief. "Hello? Yes, Happy Holi to you, too!... Yes, we're just celebrating Holi here... yes, all of our society, all together..." Technology had saved us all from a bad moment.
The next day would be easier, we said to ourselves. All we have to do is smear colours on each other and shout Holi Hai! And we headed back to our houses recently turned to homes.
I'd forgotten all about the money I'd taken along. I'll use it at Diwali, I thought.