Every Holi, I mentally revisit my old mohalla in Kanpur. It was near the main station and inhabited by both hindus and muslims. There was a main lane going past our house with bye lanes on both sides. Our house, in which we stayed as tenants, was a big house at the mouth of the Gali(lane)known as Jaiswal building. We stayed on the first floor with a view of the long lane. The Gali on usual days had rickshaws lined up for repair and rent at Chunnilal’s . Stray dogs ruled the lane .
They were kicked or stoned by our neighbour Saxena uncle making them yelp at the highest pitch. Saxena uncle’s morning chore before going to his office used to be a verbal duel with Lallan Tewari who stayed on the first floor and whose wife used to spread the washed clothes on a plastic rope. The clothes used to drip heavily and the drops fell on Saxena uncle’s bald head irritating him . The duel used to start with Lallan bhabhi who, from behind her ghunghat ,defended her act bravely till her husband took the driving seat. Though not much came out of his mouth due to gutka, Lallan had the advantage of being at a higher level . Leaning over the railing in his Dada Kondke underwear,he used body language to subdue Saxena uncle. Saxena uncle, defeated in the duel used to take out his anger on the hapless dogs.
The dogs had one more enemy. There was an Usha uncle. A big fat punjabi khatri, he was known by that name as he was working with Usha sewing machines. He had a bullet bike. The bullet took ten minutes of cleaning and warm up creating lot of noise. The dogs on siesta after night vigil resented it. They showed it by running after uncle’s bike till the end of the lane in the process getting kicked by Usha uncle.
The gali was always full of kids playing marbles and fighting with each other. Their shirts always remained torn in the process. In short, the lane was full of life till late night. Added to the hulchul the lane remained a resting place for cows generously delivering their holy shit which lay on the lane till it was picked up by some enterprising lady for making cowdung cakes.
Holi day was, however, different. Chunnilal’s repair shop remained closed. Kids did not appear till late morning. Usha uncle’s bike fell silent and Saxena-Lallan had cease fire.
By noon, most of the adults became high on Bhaang and they somehow managed to converge at the crossing. The faces colored with black paints with other colors on the body, they sat down for a meeting. The day was for making promises. Saxena uncle hugged Lallan and promised not to fight again saying ” Tu to mera chota bhai hai re’ while Lallan, overwhelmed by the gesture responded with touching saxena uncle’s feet and shedding tears. They used to be consoled by bhangless Chattri chachu – an elderly muslim who earned his name as he manufactured umbrellas.
The group used to take oath to clear the lane of the rickshaws, quarrelling kids and holy shit. Then Saxena and Usha uncles would hug the stray dogs assuring them that they won’t get kicked anymore. They stuffed the dogs with gujiyas and matthies. By late noon, the bhang used to make inroads. Suddenly Usha uncle would act like Hercules lifting his bike and hurtling it on the wall. Some acted as Milkha singh running in the lane albeit in a zig zag manner only to bang their heads against a lamppost or fall into the open nullah. They had to be carried home. Saxena uncle sang in a horribly out of tune high pitch voice with Munna miyaan on dholak. The gali fell dead silent after a while with people back in homes tired but happy.
The dogs smiled in their own way settling on the rickshaws. Next mornings the day started the same way that it used to be. Chunnilal and his rickshaws used to be back.Lallan bhabhi spread her wet sari setting a stage for the duel. Usha uncle tended to his bike. The cows ruminated with vacant gaze. Promises made went down the drain now full of colours. What remained were dazed looks, a broken ankle, bump on a head or two. Life in Gali was back. Another Unhol(y) day had started in the Mohalla. HAPPY HOLI…..

Subir Adhicary has authored five books. He is a humorist and his first book Beyond My Blinkers. He is a civil engineer from University of Roorkee ( now IIT) and is working as consultant.

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