I am waiting outside the juice shop, thirsty and tired, putting an enormous amount of expectation on a tiny glass of sugarcane juice that is yet to be served. My face is smeared in pink and yellow and some other weird combinations. My arms are still tingling from what could have been a regretful sunburn after a long celebratory drive back to our city, to this shop.Despite the brutal tanning and dehydration, I can’t help but feel elated. And why not? I am drenched in festivity! How I adore this festival of hues! This craziness!
I am at my usual lost-in-thought state when I feel a light tug on my elbow – ‘Behen O Behen! Le Lona’
Annoyed, I turn around. A little girl is trying to sell Gulal to me.
I look at the packets of colours in her hands and I know I shouldn’t buy them. Those are the kinds of colours that should be kept away from your skin at all cost unless you happen to like rashes.I am tempted anyway. It’s Holi after all! Everyone needs to celebrate today! But before I could know it, I have dropped the idea again – Nahi, bacche, nahi chahiye. No child, I don’t want it.
Lelona. Please? – She requests again.
You can call her a beautiful child if you look at her carefully; Her brown eyes, that goes with her brown complexion, her perfectly aligned teeth, her straight thin nose and the innocence in her voice.I have come down to my knees. My fingers are now fondling with colours inside the packet I have. No, I can’t buy the so-called Gulal from her and I won’t. It is against my easily adaptable principles. But I paint both her cheeks green and greet her a happy Holi.
She is surprised. A smile brightens up her face. Suddenly, she forgets why she is even here! I offer her my cheek. She dips her small fingers in my packet and slather the colour over my face. Now, I am heavily dusted in green as well. Her smile has broadened. No one has ever seemed so happy just with these small gestures before.
I am smiling too. I try to feed in the details of her happy face in my head.You,little girl,are such a delightful lovely poem that I can’t even pen you down. Maybe someday when I am worth and capable of putting your beauty in words, I will. But for now, I still can’t buy these packets of pity from you that you still hold in your hands, that you are still going to try to sell to other prospective buyers a few minutes from now. And though you are still smiling at me and you don’t even want my money anymore, I just find myself letting out an inaudible and invisible murmur – ‘I am sorry’.I know that you are not asking for my apology. You don’t want it. Actually, it’s I who really needs it – as a futile attempt to pacify my own confused conscience. I am sorry because I don’t think you deserve this. I am sorry because I can’t help you escape the circumstances you have been born in. I can’t save you from your parents making you sell these packets. I can’t send you to school and I can’t teach you either. And neither can I ever take responsibility for your better childhood or better future. Not that there is no way for achieving any of this, it’s just that I am lazy and I am running short of efforts to uplift my own life. Looking at you, I raise those never-to-be-answered questions to my fate again. Why you? Why me? They aren’t answered of course. As usual, they turn their backs on me. And then I turn my back on you after one last cheerful, apologetic and perhaps an unnecessarily guilty glance.