Faiths and Colors
“Zainab madam, save me,” Asma comes dashing into the staffroom and slides behind my chair. The air around me stirs by her rapid movement.
“What happened, Asma?” I look up from the math test I am busy checking.
“My friends want to color me,” Asma says, gasping, catching her breath. “Please tell them the gulaal will ruin my faith.” She pauses. “Our faith, Madam.”
I am the only Muslim teacher in this private school in New Delhi, India. I have a green gulaal packet in my purse to color my fellow Hindu teachers in friendship and goodwill for Holi. The festival is tomorrow but the school will be closed, so today is my chance to convey my wishes.
I ask Asma to come out of her hiding because the students she is running from cannot enter the staffroom without permission. She stands under the ceiling fan and the smell of amla oil in her neatly pleated air fills the room. There are rings of sweat in the armpits of her white shirt because she has come running from the 6th grade classroom on the third floor.
It is the last period of the day and everyone is in a festive mood. The teachers are exchanging recipes for gujiyas and namakparas, the special treats of Holi. The science teacher takes out pink gulaal from her purse and starts applying a little to other teachers’ foreheads, one by one, chanting ‘Happy Holi’.
Asma hides behind me again, terrified at the sight of the gulaal. As the science teacher approaches me, Asma pulls a corner of my dupatta and shakes her head side to side in a ‘No’. She doesn’t want my faith to be sullied either. And I politely refuse the color, hug the science teacher, and wish her a happy Holi. Asma is smiling now, her coffee-colored eyes shining with approval.
The bell rings, signaling the end of the school day, and Asma runs to her classroom to fetch her book bag. All the teachers walk out briskly, chattering happily, clutching their purses and lunchboxes. I rise slowly from my chair. My hands are sweating and my feet feel heavy with inertia; the little unopened packet of gulaal in my purse feels like 5 kilograms on my shoulder. But it’s really my conscience weighing me down.
I have grown up spraying pichkaris full of colored water at friends, throwing water balloons at neighbors, on Holi .The day before Holi, the air in my tiny Muslim household used to be redolent with the aroma of gujiyas Ammi was cooking.
I wanted to tell all this to little Asma. I wanted to tell her that faith resides deep inside. That it cannot be tainted by Holi’s innocuous gulaal.
But I did not. Instead, she colored me.
Holi: A Hindu festival of colors celebrated in India
Gulaal : colored powders used for the Holi festival.
Gujiyas: Indian sweet specially prepared for the Holi festival
Namakpara: savory Indian snacks
Ammi: Mother (commonly used by Muslims)
About the writer:
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American living in the United States. She is a Pushcart nominee for 2017 and her work has been published in The Sidereal, The Same, Cabinet of Heed, Star82 Review, and Former Cactus, among others.
Image: “Evolving” by Eileen Tascioglu. Acrylic pouring on canvas. 8″ X 10.” 2017. A self-taught artist, one of the greatest joys of Eileen Tascioglu’s life has been the continual study of art. Color is her way of expressing emotion.