Trisha and her friends were easy to find. The children’s happy excited voices and laughter rang loud in the park. Clearly, they were playing in water, the loud splash, splash told Vikas. It was holi and Trisha was out with her school friends, ‘Dad, we will be in the park, be back in an hour,' she had said as she skipped happily out of the house to join her friends waiting outside. That was at eight in the morning, the children were too excited to wait till the day had become warmer. Now the sun was overhead but there was no sign of their return. ‘You give in to all her wishes, go fetch her,’ Anita, Vikas’ wife, had said.
Vikas made his way to the park and walked towards where their voices were coming from. Trisha, Mini, Aditya, Swara and Rohan, there they were beside a muddy pool formed by water that had collected from a leaking pipe in the park. The packets of gulal they had carried in the morning were apparently over, they were now playing in the mud and seemed to be really enjoying rolling around in the dirt. Like a bunch of little piglets, Vikas grinned at the extraordinary thought. ‘Hey, push me also in the water,’ said Rohan who appeared to be a little less covered in mud than the others. The bright colours of the gulal had been washed from their faces, now they were all an identical colour of earth. They seemed to be having a really good time, and Trisha was too busy splashing the dirty water on her friends to notice Dad had come to fetch her.
Vikas was about to call out to her but held back. A smile appeared on his face as he remembered his own school days. How much fun it was playing holi with friends! Nothing was taboo: paint, mud, keechad, everything was ‘colour’ as far as they were concerned. As a school boy, every Holi afternoon Vikas returned home to a scolding from his mother, ‘Shi, look how dirty you are! No, no, no, don’t come anywhere near me, go take a bath first.’ Then, without thinking, she would immediately give him a hug, oblivious that she was now also covered in mud. There would be a treat waiting for him and his friends: plates stacked with barfi, laddoo, chakli and tall glasses of cold chocolate milk welcomed them after they came home covered in paint, gulal, mud.
Vikas seemed to glow from the memory. So much joy, so much laughter. And so much love! ‘Let them play,’ he murmured looking at Trisha and her friends. He pretended he had not seen them and kept on walking, past the playing children and out of the park. Anita would be annoyed but Vikas didn’t care. Once he reached home, he opened the fridge, prepared a large jug of chocolate milk and waited, both patient and eager, for Trisha and her friends to return to warm hugs and cold chocolate milk.