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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

White has no place on Holi

Reading Time: 4 minutesThe power of love can bring colour to a life filled with sorrow, writes RANI JHALA

holiMy brother hated Holi, both the festival and the celebration. Even as children, while our entire family participated in the festivity, he would stay within the confines of the house and only venture out after the celebrations were over. We used to make fun of him, until we found out that he had nearly died as a toddler after having an allergic reaction to the colour powder that had been put on him. After that we ensured that no one came close to him with commercially produced gulal, the colour they used at Holi.

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Prompted by what happened, my mother began experimenting and now creates our own natural colours. In fact she manages the business Holi-ka-rang, or the ‘Colours of Holi’ and I am the CEO of that company. It is in that capacity that I went to a little village about an hour’s drive away from our city. The land was known to be very fertile and was famous for its beautiful blossoms and henna. All perfect raw materials for producing natural colours.

My accommodation had been booked in the only guesthouse in the area, run by an elderly couple. The property had been in their family for three generations and their granddaughter ran the property for them, and supervised the floral farms, but she was away when I arrived. I was taken to a first floor room overlooking the valley. Their grandchild would see me as soon as she returned.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but an hour later when Shweta knocked on the door of my room, I was stunned to see a slim, beautiful woman dressed in a simple white cotton sari. Neither the paleness of the sari, nor the face bereft of any make up, could lessen her beauty. And when she smiled, I knew I was looking at my future sister-in-law.

Under the pretext of needing help, I asked for my brother Chirtrang to come over. We stayed a full week and returned home to make two announcements. I announced the successful lease of the land where we could build the factory. My brother simply made one announcement, that he had found his bride.

My parents were thrilled to hear both the news. That was until they found out that Shweta was a widow whose husband had been killed in a car accident on their wedding day. She had not even been welcomed as a new bride by her in-laws when she was returned to her family as a widow. It had been an arranged marriage, but to Shweta it had been her destiny. The five years spent as a widow in her grandparent’s home suffering the stigma of widowhood did nothing to lessen the feeling of disappointment in my parents. Their only son was going to bring home another man’s widow; but the more they opposed the marriage, the more determined Chirtrang became to marry Shweta.

Even I faltered. Had I made the wrong decision in getting my brother to meet Shweta? Were people right that a widow would bring her previous curse to her new marriage? I asked my brother to think again.

His reply silenced me forever. “Did you not call me to change her hue-less life into one of colour? Was not your purpose to introduce me to the one you had already accepted as a sister-in-law? Do you want me to go back and tell her that a more suitable bride awaits me elsewhere? She did not find us, we found her. How can I tell her that my family does not want her?” he said.

I knew then, that there was only one option left and that was marriage, with or without our parent’s blessings. My brother and I bought the entire wedding trousseau. He was insistent that I only buy brightly coloured attire. Even a speck of white or grey was not to be seen in any of the clothes. Even the jewellery had to be colourful, so we chose a Navratna set comprising of nine gems of different colours.

He insisted that the ceremonial engagement veil should be colourful and bright.

But his decision to marry without our parents’ presence fell by the wayside when Shweta refused to marry without their blessings. She said the burden of their pain would be too much for her to bear. She was already coping with the heartache of one set of parents losing their son. Her grandparents did not agree with her, but chose to respect her decision.

All we now had on our side was prayers and we lit candles to every deity and angel, hoping for a miracle. That miracle came when the family astrologer predicted great success if the foundation stone of the new factory was laid on Holi, by my parents. I expected them to refuse. As if destiny was calling us, they agreed to the plan.

As we got out of the car, my mother reached for my brother’s hand as her eyes fell on Shweta silently standing beside her grandfather. It was their land that we were leasing and her grandfather wanted their rites to be done by Shweta, his ‘good luck charm’.

“That is her isn’t it?” my mother asked. I replied for my brother saying, “My sister-in-law’s name is Shweta”.

“Shweta! How odd that she is Shweta, ‘the white one’, and you are Chirtrang, the ‘one with a multi-coloured body’. I see now, that you were meant for each other”, she replied.

As my brother gave her a hug, our mother added, “I wish I had come prepared. The meeting of business partners could have also become the merging of two households”.

After all the work I had put in, I considered this my moment to shine, and quickly grabbed the tray under my seat that had the ‘veil’ and the colours. I gave them to my mother. No words were exchanged.

As we reached the waiting party, my brother walked over to Shweta. What he said brought tears to her eyes and they spilled down her cheeks in endless stream, but it was not my brother who wiped away those tears. It was my mother.

Slowly she unfolded the veil and draped it over Shweta. Then one by one, all of us took a little colour and rubbed it on her cheeks. My brother was the last and I heard him say “White has no place on Holi!” before he ‘accidently’ tilted the tray and smiled as its entire contents fell, colouring her white sari. His Shweta was now Chirtrang.

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Rani Jhala
Rani is married and lives with her family in Sydney. She prefers to write fiction and has been contributing to Indian Link for over ten years. She is currently working on a trilogy based on three generations of women

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