Anyone who lived in Bombay in the 80’s would know what festivals were and how important they were. Deafening loudspeakers yelled at each other from different colonies. All those Bollywood numbers on festivals started from dawn till late in the night until all the neighbour’s started complaining about the volume or till Ballu (the local drunkard) was completely sloshed and out after dancing on those numbers!
Those were the times when lovers dedicated songs on loudspeakers and new love blossomed under the name of festivals.
Holi and Govinda (Janamashtmi, Dahi Handi) were my favorites.
The year started with Holi. During Holi, a huge crater would be dug in the concrete of Amchiwadi and Kiran, the taxi driver, would perform Holika Puja! Kiran transformed into a Pujari (priest) on such occasions, after all he belonged to the Brahmin family and when would all the shloka’s (chants) payback, which he had earnestly learned from his Ajoba (grandpa).
I do not remember about the rituals though but I remember, we kids use to sit around the Holika (burning campfire) and watch all the mummies, aunties and Aajjies (grandmas) come with their thali’s (ceremonial plates) and perform their Puja (rituals). The interesting bit about the entire puja were the coins that were hurled into the Holika. We would sit around the circumference of the crater and watch those coins glowing in the flames.
Each one eyeing the loot!
Come morning and we would jump into that crater even before brushing our teeth. By morning all that was left in the crater would be ashes and dark burnt coins and some grey kids! People around us would be all red, pink and violet with the holi colours but we kids would be busy collecting the coins from crater all grey! Finally the big kids would come and pull us out and take their share from the loot …that was Holi for me all grey and smoky. It was only later in college days that it turned colorful and intoxicated!
Govinda (Krsihna’s Birthday) was my favorite and probably everyone’s favorite in Amchiwadi. A lot of days went into practicing, forming the human pyramid to break the Handi (earthen pot filled with buttermilk which is tied at height.)
Now every year the lightweight Raju was the top most boy in the pyramid and had mastered the art of breaking the handi. Each year the handi went higher and higher but the Amchiwadi’s govinda (the participant of the pyramid, they are called govindas after Lord Krishna’s gang of friend’s, who use to steal butter) also never gave up… they too climbed higher and higher… sometimes the height was as high as 30 feet… the Guinness record is 43 feet! The higher the handi the bigger the prize money… each colony had their own team of govindas and each colony had their handi with prize money. All the neighboring colonies would invite other colony govindas to come and accept the challenge to break their handi… who ever broke the handi would walk away with the prize money… now this was not very simple as it sounds… the govindas formed a human pyramid… sometimes going up to six tiers but the catch here is the colony residents… they would all try and stop the govindas to break the handi by hurling water. The small kids used coloured water balloons and their enthusiastic mothers would hurl buckets of water. All hanging from their windows and balconies. Hurling water, shouting and screaming, distracting the govindas.
Amidst the chaos and excitement we have the loud speakers blaring the famous govinda songs from Bollywood. In the late 80’s every Bollywood actor from Amitabh Bachchan to Jackie Shroff had one song to their name and they too have performed the govinda stunt in their movies. In Bollywood every actor has one such song be it a govinda song or ganesh song…. all of them have danced to these numbers….and during these festivals these songs go on a loop on the loud speakers. By the end of the day I am sure everyone knew the lyrics by heart.
Now coming back to Amchiwadi… Each year Raju our master govinda would be the top guy in the pyramid and would always make sure that their team broke at least four or five handis. They all use to look forward as the prize money would help them run their homes for months. Raju was the local barber’s son, the youngest and the smartest. It was only during govinda that the people in Amchiwadi made the barber and his family feel alive. Nobody knew how many days they slept hungry or how many nights their roof leaked but come govinda, the entire Amchiwadi made Raju and his family feel important.
As I lived on the topmost house with a terrace, every year the boys use to come home to tie the handi and made sure they stacked enough water in buckets, pots, mugs and balloons… to distract the other govinda team.
One such year, I remember we decided to tie the handi really high, almost 30 feet! … Why? We had collected more cash for the prize money and we thought we can’t give the money that easy. Result many govindas came, fell, re-tried and fell again… almost all the neighboring colonies came and tried but none of them could make it. Normally by lunch all the handis are broken but it was almost evening and still nobody could break the handi… finally Raju decided that we will break our own handi… they had practiced the pyramid till five tiers but this one needed at least seven… so without practicing they went for seven… result… they all fell… they all came tumbling down like a pack of cards … everyone took utmost care that Raju fell first and was taken good care of… each time they went up, there was pin drop silence… even the loud speakers were shut but they came tumbling down.
Now I was really tired and wanted this madness to end … I was hanging from my terrace waiting for the handi to break so that the loud speakers would stop and I could get back to my studies… the rope from where the handi was tied was right under my nose. I looked at the rope and then at tired Raju .. Raju caught my eye … I smiled and he winked … Raju pleaded to his team for one last try …
And yes they did it.
There was cheering and clapping, the entire Amchiwadi was dancing… the loud speakers were louder than before and there was no end to the rejoicing… it went on till dawn.
I really wanted this madness to stop, I wanted to sleep and wake up for my exams in the morning.Had I known that the party would never end I would have never lowered the rope.