Children

Colours of the past

We were on a road trip to Kolkata. On day three, we crossed over into Bengal in our trusted old Ambassador. My siblings and I were tired and irritable and my mother was nursing a headache. Distracted, my father drove on. We found ourselves in a quaint, picturesque village at the foothills of a mountain.

It was a bright March morning and the air was fresh, laden with the scent of jasmine. As we drove through, we heard the sound of temple bells. The houses on either side of the road were old but well cared for. There was not a soul in sight.

Halfway down the road, our car coughed, spluttered and gave up the ghost. “We’ll have to get it fixed,” he said. We groaned, moaned and complained. We picnicked by the roadside. As the afternoon wore on, the ringing of the bells grew louder. The village lay basking in the evening sun.

Springing to life

Then we heard laughter, music, the jingling of bangles and the tinkling of anklets. “Ghostlike,” whispered my sister, sending shivers down our spine.

Suddenly, the quiet was shattered and the street burst into life. There were people everywhere. They threw coloured powder on one another and, when they saw us, they swept us up into their revelry. We were caught up in clouds of purple, pink, red, green, laughter and song. The bells continued to ring.

Eerie calm

I am not sure how the night ended but we woke up with the sun on our faces. Memories of the previous night flooded in. But, there was no trace of anything. The bells, too, were silent. It was eerily calm.

“We need to get out of here. I don’t like this place,” said my father. Determined, he fiddled with the car. Whatever he did seemed to work and we were off.

When we told our host in Kolkata about our experience, he told us the story of the village. “When Alivardi Khan became the Nawab of Bengal, his ascension was challenged. So he sought the help of the Marathas in Nagpur, who obliged by sending a cavalry. But the Bargis, as they were known, plundered and killed, destroying the village. It was on the eve of Holi. It was the last happy festival the village celebrated. According to legend, if you happen to be in the village on the eve of Holi, you can participate in the festival. But, sadly, not many have lived to tell the tale.”

Note: In April 1740, Alivardi Khan became the Nawab of Bengal. Later, to secure his position, he requested the help of the Marathas, who were known as Bargis. They looted and plundered the village of Garh Panchkot. The rest of the story is fictional.


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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 4:51:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/colours-of-the-past/article34132560.ece

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