MIZ TIGA DOES NOT PLAY HOLI:RUMJHUM
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Rumjhum Biswas devoted herself to writing more than
a decade ago from her earlier profession as a copywriter. She is currently
based in Chennai and writes fiction and poetry. Biswas's short stories
have previously been published in Gowanus, Amarillo Bay, Lily Literary
Review and several issues of The Paumanok Review. Her poetry has appeared in Poems Niederngasse and Unlikely Stories. "Miz Tiga Does Not Play Holi"
has been previously published in volume 4, number 1, issue 13 of The
Paumanok Review, 2003.
* * *
Miz Tiga watched the girls
from the window of her tiny parlor. They were shouting and giggling,
pushing and jostling, with an abandon that only a bunch of giddy schoolgirls
could possess. Miz Tiga adjusted the steel rimmed spectacles on her
nose. She gave the girls one last stern look before returning to the
kitchenette behind her parlor. The girls were excited because the next
three days were school holidays. None of them would be going home for
the weekend though. They would rather stay back for this particular
long weekend, because of the Holi festival.
Miz Tiga did not like Holi. She did not like giggly schoolgirls either.
But the combination of giggly schoolgirls and Holi (which was the messiest
festival, worse than Diwali, in her opinion!) gave Miz Tiga a headache.
The other teachers at the school knew she did not play Holi, so they
left her in peace, apart from sending over a plate or two of sweetmeats.
The girls knew Miz Tiga did not approve of scatter-brained girls in
full Holi regalia (color sodden clothes and faces monkeyed
with Gulal!) so they usually stayed away from her portion of the teachers
The teachers quarters were made up of two rows of red-tiled single
and double bed-roomed cottages at one end of the vast school compound.
Each cottage had its own small patch of garden, separated from one another
and the school compound as well by hibiscus hedges trimmed low. These
dwarf borders gave one a clear view of the wide graveled path that ran
between the two rows of cottages, and also of any person, who happened
to be on that path, just as the cluster of girls were, on that bright
and clear, late spring evening.
Dusk was still a long way off. And, the birds were still busy going
about their business; the evening chatter of homing birds would not
commence until another hour or so. The school was in that lull between
the end of classes and the gong for dinner, when the girls were free
to loiter around the grounds. Miz Tiga savored this hour when she could
make herself a cup of sweet milky tea in her kitchenette and drink it
in the quiet comfort of her double bed-sized front porch. She did not
the want the chattering girls nearby when she drank her tea slowly,
sip by savored sip, as she rocked gently in her cane rocking chair.
But a habit is a habit. And a bunch of giddy girls were not going to
keep Miz Tiga away from her cup of tea.
Miz Tiga placed her cup on the cane side table. It was actually a more
of a coffee mug than a teacup, made from heavy lily china, and now crisscrossed
with age. It had a rotund figure line drawn in black with the legend
MRS on it. There was another just like it, except for the legend that
said MR, stashed away in the cupboard behind her dining table in one
corner of her parlor. She had bought the pair years ago, when she was
a young wife, when Mr. Tiga shared her quiet evening tea.
Now she sipped her tea, looking covertly from under her glasses. The
girls were still there, gathered in front of Mrs. Boses gate.
Mrs. Bose, thin as a reed and ready to burst into fits of giggles just
like her charges, was obviously the most favorite teacher. Her popularity
increased before Holi, since it was she who was in charge of getting
the girls organized for the festival. The girls were probably trying
to find out how much of Gulal and how many packets of color for the
colored water each of them would be allotted. They would not be told,
no matter how much they begged and cajoled Mrs. Bose. But undeterred
they would debate about the ration of colors both wet and dry, and try
to include Mrs. Bose in their debate, in the childish hope that she
would let slip some vital information. Mrs. Bose knew the game and she
played along, much to Miz Tigas disgust. A stern, come back
tomorrow girls! would have cut this unseemly cacophony down immediately.
But Mrs. Bose seemed to enjoy the whole business.
Miz Tiga listened with half an ear to the girls chatter, punctuated
by Mrs. Boses cackling laugh. She laughed like a hyena, thought
Miz Tiga irritably. This was not really true, but laugh like a
hyena was a favorite expression of Miz Tigas, especially
when she reprimanded the girls about their uncontrollable sense of humor.
She had other favorite expressions in her arsenal, which she used indiscriminately
on the girls; but when she flung it at an unwary teacher, usually the
younger and more inexperienced ones, she did condescend to exercise
a pinch of tact. Few teachers crossed words with her, as she was one
of the oldest teachers in the school. Miz Tiga had been teaching Hindi
and Moral Science for more than thirty years. Nobody remembered Miz
Tiga as a young woman, though thirty years ago she certainly had been
young, and contentedly
married to Mr. Tiga. She did not live in her cottage on
the school grounds then. She came to school in a Morris Minor car, driven
by Mr. Tiga, who regularly dropped his wife at her school before on
his way to office.
But Miz Tiga doesnt play Holi!
The thin bird-like voice, probably Navjits, who could never stop
herself from saying the wrong thing at the right place and the right
thing at the wrong time, rose above the chatter, and an awkward silence
descended immediately. The girls and Mrs. Bose knew that Miz Tiga was
sitting there on her porch and drinking her tea, as usual.
Miz Tiga stiffened. Her glasses caught the setting suns rays and
Now girls! Everybody doesnt have to get wet and covered
with from head to toe in Gulal in order to enjoy Holi. Some of us like
But Miss, she wouldnt like us to go to her.
I mean like we come to you and the other teachers for sweets an
all. I mean
This was said in a low voice.
Probably Dipti, the most outspoken of the lot,
thought Miz Tiga grimly. She had stopped rocking and was listening keenly.
Now girls! said Mrs. Bose again. This time
she tried to make her voice a bit sterner. You must respect your
teachers and other seniors and do your part. Doesnt Miz Tiga distribute
cakes during Christmas? You must wish her Happy Holi. Okay?
Now run along. You dont want to be late for dinner. You have to
wash up first you know!
With that she shooed the girls away and walked quickly
inside, but not before Dipti had piped up with, but miss we are
never here during Christmas!
The girls dispersed. Their disgruntled chatter wafted towards Miz Tiga
in muffled tones. She did not have to hear the exact words to know what
they were grumbling about. Everybody in the school knew that not only
did Miz Tiga not play Holi; she disapproved of any activity that involved
mess and grime and shouting and screaming. She did not like hysterical
girls. She had no patience with teachers who could not instill discipline
among the students. She was especially strict with the Christian girls,
who habitually incurred her wrath for sundry offences that ranged from
long nails and stray curls to not knowing the Bible as well as they
ought. Miz Tiga knew that she was not popular with the girls. She also
knew that they cracked many jokes and mimicked her rudely behind her
Miz Tiga got up from her comfortable position and walked down to the
wooden gate that separated her cottage from the path.
Girls! She barked. Come here!
The girls froze. They slowly retraced their steps till
they were standing between her cottage and that of Mrs. Boses.
Yes, Miss? They said in a united whisper,
huddling like frightened chicks.
Tomorrow, in the evening, after you have finished
playing and cleaned yourselves, you may come to wish me Happy Holi.
Yes Miss, they said in unison again and started
to flee towards the main school building; all the girls, except one.
This was none other than Navjit of the thin bird-like
voice. The rest of her matched her voice, for she was a thin small child
with two long thin braids, and grazed elbows and knobby knees.
Why Miss? She asked, not rudely, though the
choice of words was wrong, while a gasp of shock shuddered through the
rest of the girls.
According to the traditional rules of Holi, you
play with your friends, but pay respect to elders by putting a bit of
Gulal on their feet! she said. And elders give sweets,
she added, squeezing back a smile that had timidly started out at the
corner of her thin lips.
Navjit looked at her wide-eyed. Yes Miss,
she replied with saucer eyes.
The rest of the girls said nothing. They could barely
suppress their giggles. They walked quickly back the way they had come,
their giggles growing bolder as the distance between them and Miz Tiga
And, elders give sweets, mimicked Sudha, instantly
provoking peals of laughter from the rest.
My God, Miz Tigas sweets! Said Dipti.
She turned to her companions.
Remember what she gave us last year?
Yeah! Stone hard sesame laddus, said Sudha.
And, they were old too, said Elizabeth, wrinkling
her nose at the memory.
She brought them out from a rusty ol Nespray
tin! Yuck! Said Dipti.
I think we should go, said Navjit seriously.
Yes, chumchy, you go!
As if toadying to ol Tigas going be
of any use!
Navjit took the jibes in her stride. Something in Miz
Tigas manner had caught at a chord in her heart. But she knew
confiding in her friends would make them taunt her more. Meanwhile,
Miz Tiga hurried inside. She would be up early tomorrow. The girls had
no idea how much one had to prepare if one wanted to celebrate Holi
properly. They did not know that Holi was not just about getting dirty
and gorging on sweets. But how could they? Times have changed, she told
herself as she rolled out the two chapattis she made for her dinner
everyday. Miz Tiga looked up, cocked her head and nearly smiled. She
could almost hear Mr. Tiga stirring the big pot of milk on the stove
in preparation for the Bhang-laced sherbet for Holi.
Mr. Tiga did not drink or smoke. Miz Tiga would never have agreed to
the match if he had. Most of his friends were not averse to drinking.
But Mr. Tiga restricted his drinking to that sip of communion wine at
Sunday church, and the solitary glass of brandy before Christmas dinner.
But Bhang was something he drank ritually during every Holi. Miz Tiga
did not mind. It had never occurred to her not to participate in this
Hindu festival. Her parents had always joined in the mirth and merriment
of Holi, just as their Hindu friends never forgot to call on them during
Christmas. And, Bhang was such an integral part of Holi!
Miz Tiga, she heard him say, as she got ready for bed. Miz
Tiga, make sure the pistachios are well ground for my special Bhang.
Mr. Tiga always called her Miz Tiga, never Susan Mary. And, she always
called him Mr. Tiga, never by his first name, which was Thomas. They
were both up and awake by dawn on the day of Holi; Mr. Tiga softly humming
to himself as he made coffee for them both, Miz Tiga bustling around
the kitchen as she made her preparations for the morning. There would
be a mound of laddoos and mawa barfis and some savory snacks to be made.
And, of course the Bhang sherbet had to be kept ready and chilled in
a large earthen pitcher that was brought out from the storeroom before
Holi every year.
She also needed to make the lunch ready before hand. That part was easy
though. Because after consuming so many sweetmeats, there would be little
room for anything more than a bit of fried vegetables and Khichri. But
she would not stint on the quantity, because on Holi day, you never
knew how many people would be having lunch at your place. And, Mr. Tiga
had a large circle of friends, not necessarily Ranchi Christians like
themselves for the town where Mr. Tiga lived was a very cosmopolitan
town. And, most of their friends worked at the same factory as Mr. Tiga.
Miz Tiga watched Mr. Tiga as he ambled out of the house
in his white pajama and matching white kurta. He looked like a child
with his favorite toy, never mind the silver strands sneaking up to
catch the sun on his head. He filled the brass bucket with water and
tested the brass syringe that he would use to spray colored water on
his friends. The girls in the school used flimsy plastic ones, thought
Miz Tiga disdainfully, as she poured the batter into the cake tin. Miz
Tigas fruitcakes were famous. She usually made several batches
for Christmas, but this time for want of condiments in her house for
making Bhang sherbet and laddoos, she had decided to bake a cake.
Mr. Tiga would have welcomed her cake, but of course he would have made
sure the other sweets were there too. Mr. Tiga was never one to stint
on the table. All his friends said that. And, Miz Tiga, once she learned
of her husbands weakness for a well-laid table, did her part with
a zeal that earned her the loud appreciation of Mr. Tigas friends
and the silent envy of their spouses.
Miz Tiga! He called. Miz Tiga, are you
going to spend Holi in the kitchen? Then you better watch out! Here
they are now, all ready to come in!
Laughing, wiping her hands on the old sari worn especially
for the colorful onslaught of Holi, Miz Tiga emerged. Her half-hearted,
feeble protests were ignored and within minutes she had acquired green
hair and a red and yellow face. Mr. Tiga grinning back at her with a
face that seemed dusted with the colors of the rainbow, his pristine
white pajama-kurta dyed a motley shade. Some one brought out a dholak,
some one else brought out a harmonium, and lusty songs were sung interrupted
with shouts of Holi hai! Holi hai! The pitcher of Bhang
was brought out. Steel tumblers passed around. Plates of sweets served.
The men danced. The women broke out in uncontrollable giggles. Friends
came and friends went. The sun climbed higher in the sky, perhaps to
get a better view of this raucously happy scene below. Nobody felt the
heat. They were wet and cool, drenched from head to toe with colored
Later on, when the shadows had started to grow long, the Tigas went
laughing to the Singhs house or to the Tobiass house or
to the Roys house, with their pressure cooker of khichri and Tiffin
box of fried vegetables; their contribution for an impromptu potluck
lunch. Nobody seemed to mind that the khichri was cold, the fried vegetables
soggy. The Tigas did not mind eating limp purees and congealed dum alu.
And, after that, tired and bleary eyed, they returned home to bathe
and freshen up for the evening. For Holi had not yet ended. It would
end only after they joined their friends at the club where an old Hindi
movie was screened and the club cook served up a hot dinner. And, after
that, Mr. and Miz Tiga returned home to the quarters of the company
where Mr. Tiga worked, the house in darkness because Miz Tiga for once
had forgotten to switch on the porch light.
Miz Tiga sighed as she switched on the porch light. Fireflies were puncturing
little holes in the violet sheet of dusk as they flitted about. The
sounds of girls giggling reached out to her from what seemed to be an
unbridgeable distance. This part of the school compound was the most
silent. Mrs. Bose was still with the girls, as were most of the other
teachers and their families.
Miz Tiga lit a couple of mosquito-coils. The smoke made
her eyes water, but that was better than the buzzing little rascals.
She sat on her rocker, her tea long grown cold beside her. The cake
neatly sliced into thin squares lying quietly on the dining table inside.
Who is that? said Miz Tiga squinting in the
Its me, Navjit, Miz Tiga.
So youve come now! Its past dinner time,
unless they are serving dinner late today!
They are serving dinner late today, because its
Holi, miss, said the girl, inching timidly forward. Miss?
Happy Holi miss.
Miz Tiga got up and looked at the child. She was so thin
and small; you could hardly believe that she was thirteen years old.
So you were the only one to remember your Miz Tiga,
Yes miss. I mean no miss. The other girls are a
little busy miss. I
thought Id come first, miss.
Hmmf. No need to give excuses for those girls. I
know all you girls like the back of my palm! Anyway, you come inside.
I have something for you.
Miz Tiga walked inside without bothering to see if the
girl had followed. She put two slices of cake on a quarter plate and
poured a glass of orange squash into a tumbler.
Come to the dining table and eat this, she
The girl meekly sat down and ate with her head bowed.
Miz Tiga watched her for a while. Then she packed the rest of the slices
into a large steel Tiffin box.
Here, she said. You take these back
with you to the dining hall. Distribute them among the girls. Okay?
Dont eat them by yourself.
Navjit blinked. Yes Miss.
She stood there awkwardly, holding the Tiffin box in her
hand. Her thin frame trembled a little as she struggled to say something.
Yes, what is it?
Miss, you are really very sweet, miss! blurted
Miz Tiga looked at Navjit for what seemed to be a very
Navjit was already wishing she had never opened her mouth.
Hmmf! You remember to bring back my Tiffin box tomorrow
morning. Mr. Tiga used to take his lunch in that.
Yes miss. Thank you miss, said Navjit as she
started to run back to her friends. Happy Holi again, Miz Tiga!
Happy Holi to all of you, said Miz Tiga. But
she said the words so softly, Navjit did not hear.
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