Anaita descended from the crowded Central Line at Holborn station. It wasn’t her usual stop, but she felt a walk in the cool breeze would raise her spirits. By adopting a brisk step, she’d make it on time for her 10:30 lecture at the Legal Studies Institute at Russell Square.
Today marked 6 months of living away from home, away from her mother’s hugs, her father’s pampering, the delicious home-cooked meals, and the luxuries that came with her privileged life in Delhi. She was 24, but she still had a lot of growing up to do.
It was unusually balmy for London, in the month of March. Her mind wandered, as she trod a well-remembered path. It had been her decision to pursue a Master’s degree abroad. Her protective mother had been vehemently opposed, preferring to have her daughter settle down while she was of prime ‘marriageable age’, but a simple appeal to her father had broken all barriers. This was her year of independence and she had to make the most of it.
Yesterday, when her mother called for their daily exchange of news, she prattled on about the Holi celebrations planned at home. Her mother’s magnanimity was well-known, and droves of distant relatives and friends would attend their annual Holi parties.
Anaita had never been fond of the festival. She hated removing the permanent colour from her lustrous hair, and detested the zits that invariably sprouted on her glowing complexion. However, she participated in the celebrations to please her parents; seeking refuge in her room once everyone was distracted. This was her first time away from home on Holi, and the farce of enjoying it!
Ordinarily, this thought would make her happy, but she felt despondent. In fact, she’d been feeling low for quite a while. She appreciated the challenging course, and was grateful for the learned professors, interactive classes and engaging reading material. She had also made many friends from across the world, so it wasn’t a question of loneliness.
“It must be London’s gloomy weather”, she concluded, attempting to shake herself from her reverie.
Turning towards the SOAS campus, she heard loud whoops and yells. As a college dedicated to Asian and African studies, SOAS was known for its eccentricities; but revelry at this hour was unusual even for them. She decided to take a peek- what could possibly be going on?
A quick walk across the main garden, brought her to a massive Holi party in full swing. Hundreds of students from all over the world were throwing colour at each other, and swaying to desi music. She was taken aback. She knew London was very cosmopolitan, but wasn’t expecting this sight.
As she stood taking it all in, she felt a tap on her shoulder. A slightly shaggy, blonde boy was offering her a plate of brownies. The red and green colour he was swathed in, made him look bizarre, but his cute lopsided smile was quite endearing.
“Would you like a brownie? They’re the ‘happy’ kind. They’ll finish really fast, so grab ‘em while you can!”.
Startled, Anaita replied, “Uhhhh… you mean they’ve been spiked with weed?”
“Haha, no! This is good stuff… hash.”
“I’ve never tried that before”, she hesitated.
“Well, there’s a first time for everything. And really, what’s Holi without bhaing, right?!”, he laughed at his own joke.
“You mean Bhaang”, she corrected, secretly impressed with his knowledge of the Indian festival. After a moment’s hesitation, she reached over and broke off a tiny piece. “Thanks… ummm…”
“I’m Ben, and you don’t have to thank me. Just come join the fun!”
He grabbed her hand and pulled her into the crowd, and Anaita followed willingly, all thoughts of attending her class forgotten.
As the day wore on, she found herself playing freely with colour, dancing with a stranger to her hearts content, candidly enjoying the edibles being passed around, and laughing endlessly.
When the crowds had dwindled, and her tired feet had gotten the best of her, she bid farewell to Ben. As she expected, he asked for her number. Anaita blushed but shook her head.
He protested with a devilishly charming grin, “Why not? I’d like to meet you again”.
She impulsively planted a peck on his cheek and whispered, “Bura na mano, holi hai!”
Ben stood baffled; while Anaita walked away with a spring in her step, feeling happier than she had in a long time. The vibrant colours on her skin and hair, being a resplendent reminder of home.
Hi folks, this is my first attempt at fiction on this blog, and I’d love your feedback! Do share your comments below.
*Unless specified, pictures are taken on my phone. Copyright belongs to nooranandchawla.
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