Our family owned a mithai shop in Patna and Holi was the only time of the year when all the workers went on holiday. The shop would be shut for two or three days and the entire family would gather together to celebrate the festival. Most of the workers were from the Sitamarhi district of Bihar (on the Indo-Nepal border) and Holi was perhaps their biggest festival.
In the mornings, we would play geeli Holi with our friends which was basically the ganda holi with water and other liquids too extreme to mention in publication. By the evening we would sober up and play dry Holi a much more acceptable affair, with gulal, a tradition which is a family mainstay, something the entire khaandan could participate in.
Treats such as fried malpua and gujiyas would dominate the festival, every piece made at home. One of our family friends owned an ice cream shop, and every Holi they would send out bhaang ice cream to their friends and family. A few bricks, an almost beguiling light shade of green, completely innocent in appearance but more ‘adult’ than any of the foreign brands purveyed today (yes, it had a ‘full’ effect). Suffice to say, each brick would be more than enough for each family. And the day. Alongside the thandai ka maal (yup, it was bhaang) which would be freshly ground, Holi was usually a coruscated blur of colour, family and happiness.
While today most neighbourhoods or ‘societies’ still celebrate Holi in earnest, it has become a more cosmopolitan affair. Earlier people would play Holi until they literally dropped and had to go back home and retire, today, they play during the day and come to the restaurant in the evenings, with family or otherwise. Our staff gets the morning off but we come in the evening because there’s such a huge demand for food
Perhaps the best way to surmise it is that the festival has become a holiday instead of Holi Day.
Chef Manish Mehrotra is Executive Chef at Indian Accent (As told to Shantanu David)
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