Happy Friday Everyone,

Today it's my turn to blog and I thought I would continue from last week's introduction to Manacled with a little information on another Hindu festival, that of Holi or Phagwa. I took part in this festival every year while growing up in Trinidad. All young kids love it - it's an excuse to spray your aunts and uncles and parents with colored water - and you can't be punished.

Here it is:


“Paxton, if she doesn’t agree to legalize your relationship soon, I’m in there like a dirty shirt.”

Halfway through the doorway, Sarita halted, turned around, and said, “That’s flattering, Suresh, but Rolan’s my son’s father. I think I have to go with him.”

And with those words all the tension left Rolan’s body, all the bunched muscles unclenched in his neck, and his shoulders relaxed. He flashed her a grin, and their gazes met and held.

“Say you’ll marry him, Mom,” Tony piped up, and he winked at Rolan, a sidelong us-males-together gesture.

Rolan gave his son a thumbs up while studying Sarita’s flushed face.

“Hush, Anthony,” she retorted, eyebrows slashing together over her nose. “Not another word.”

“Why don’t you join us for dessert, Sarita?”

“Great notion, Paxton. Hang on, I’ll nab a chair from the dining room,” Suresh said, jumping to his feet.

“I’m sorry, I really don’t have time. As soon as I finish dessert, I have to start the canapés for this evening.” Her forehead puckered and she bit her lip. “Suresh, Tony and I missed Phagwa this year. We plan to celebrate it over the next couple of days. Tomorrow Terry, the Glory’s Captain and owner, is taking us to a private beach where we can have a bonfire. Would you like to join us?”

“I’d be honored, Sarita. Thank you for inviting me.”

Puzzled, Rolan’s gaze shifted from one to the other. “Phagwa? What’s Phagwa?”

“Phagwa, or Holi, is the Hindu Festival of Colors. It’s the celebration of the defeat of the demoness, Holika. Holika believed herself immune to fire, and she plotted to kill her own nephew because of his devotion to Vishnu, the heightest of the Gods. She took her nephew into a bonfire. He survived and she didn’t. Turns out she was only immune to fire if she entered the fire alone. You have to understand, there are many versions of this story, and what I’m describing now is sort of an amalgam of the majority. At any rate, the fesitval takes place over a two-day period. On the first day, which is called Kama dahanam, people light bonfires to celebrate the victory of good over evil.” Suresh explained.

“Yeah, the first night’s fun, but I like Dhulhendi better. I always get Mom good.” Tony imitated throwing a football. “It’s the great arm, ya know.”

“Dhulhendi?” Rolan scratched his temple. All at once, he remembered Hindus believed in many gods. A culture gap as high as Everest erupted. He had a mountainous hurdle ahead of him, but for Sarita and Tony, he would adapt.

“The name of the second day of the festival,” Suresh replied, his mouth curving. “People throw water and colored powders at each other. You usually end up covered from head to toe in the stuff.”

“The powders are actually ground herbs, which are used in the practice of Āyurvedic medice. You know what spring is like, the way flus run rampant. Celebrating Holi or Phagwa may have the added benefit of boosting immune systems at a time when viruses are multiplying.” Sarita shifted the tray from one hand to another.

“Are you a practicing Hindu?”

“I was baptized and raised in the Catholic faith, Suresh, but, my father was a practicing Hindu. He celebrated all the festivals and taught me about the religion. I celebrate the festivals for two reasons, to honor him, and to teach Anthony about his heritage.”

Rolan’s bunched neck muscles relaxed, the gap had just narrowed.

“And I should warn you, living in the Bible Belt meant I had to adjust. Instead of throwing the powders and water separately, I combine them. It was more accpetable to have the equivalent of a water balloon fight rather than have Tony, Doc Cavanaugh, and I throwing strange powders at each other. Our neighbors kept a close eye on us.” She sighed, a long audible breath, and gave a little shake of her head, as if clearing her thoughts. “Are you very orthodox?”

“Not at all. I don’t suppose you’ll have any thandai tomorrow night?” Suresh lifted one eyebrow, and rested his hands on his hips. “With bhang?”

“Suresh!” Sarita gave a little shake of her head, and crossed her eyes in Tony’s direction. “I’d better hustle.” She shot the Internet billionaire a schoolteacher’s scold over one shoulder and stalked away.

“What was that all about?” Rolan asked, sotto voce, taking a seat.

“Thandai is a traditional Hindu drink for the second night. It sometimes contains bhang, aka cannabis,” Suresh whispered.

****

Rolan found Sarita sitting on the floor of the galley surrounded by burlap bags.
“What on earth are you doing?”

She glanced up and answered, “Making the powder for Phagwa tonight.”

He stooped and his lips lifted at the corners. “You’ve got red, yellow, and brown stuff all over your face.” Eyes angling down, he continued, “Your neck, your hands, and even your feet are covered, too.”

“It’s difficult not to get it everywhere. That’s why I’m wearing old clothes.” She dipped her eyes to her torso. “I’m almost finished. This is the last thing I have to do.”

The Glory ‘s engines roared to life and the yacht rocked.

His eyes flew up. “I guess we’re off. Terry says it’s a short ride to the private beach. Why don’t you change into a bathing suit and we’ll dive into the water when we get there. It’ll be easier than trying to get that stuff off in a shower.”

“I’d planned on doing exactly that.” She stirred a navy-hued powder with a wooden spoon and slanted him a mischievous glance. “You don’t know what you’re in for tonight, Rolan Paxton. Every year your son mixes the Phagwa powder with water and fills balloons with the liquid. Then he goes hunting. One year, it took me two days to get the stains off my skin.”

“It sounds like an adult water-gun party. Now, if only you could add something sweet to it, then I’d offer to lick it all off.”

Two sentences and bantering amusement morphed into a sexual heat so dense, she could almost taste it.

“On second thought, maybe we should take this down to my cabin. We never did have that bath together.”

Tony skidded into the room. He halted inches away from a sack. “Aw Mom, you did it without me. You know I like to make the PP with you.”

“PP?”

“Paghwa powder, Dad. Gotcha, didn’t I?” Tony’s grin went from ear to ear.

“Watch it, buddy.” Rolan cuffed his son’s shoulder.

She loved watching their interplay, the obvious affection between them. A coal-sized lump formed in her throat.

Tony squatted in front of the open bags. He picked up a handful of reddish brown kernels.

“What are these things?” Rolan asked, jutting a chin at the seeds and ground spices in the burlap. “Smells like…” He sniffed a couple of times. “Lemons.”

“Lime. You smell the lime in the kumkum over there,” she said, pointing. “It’s turmeric mixed with slaked lime. Turmeric’s normally yellow, but the lime turns it red.”

“This one’s neem,” Tony answered, displaying a handful of kernels in his open palm.

She pointed. “That one’s haldi, which is the Indian word for turmeric. Next to the haldi is ground bilva fruit. Bilva is a sacred tree for Hindus and every part of it is used in ?yurvedic medicine. The tree is associated with the worship of Lord Shiva.”

“And all of this goes into making a powder that will be washed off in a few hours?”

“It’s the ritual and the symbolism that are important, Rolan.” Sarita read his bewilderment in his creased forehead and pursed lips. “It’s a different way of thinking.”

The ship’s engines died.

“We’re here.” Tony jumped up.

****

“Suresh is right. You’re one terrific woman.” He entwined their fingers and brought her knuckles to his lips. “Okay, woman, let’s make this the best Phagwa you’ve ever had.”

She knew it would be.

Forty-five minutes after the wooden fire had turned to ashes, Austen composed the clambake. Three layers, rocks, driftwood, and a wire mesh formed the base in that order. He then alternated seaweed between layers of food. Potatoes and onions, followed by the split Cornish hens Sarita had seasoned earlier. Corn, silk removed, husks dampened, followed whole lobsters. Austen topped everything with a final layer of seaweed. Harry and Terry covered the hole with a tarp. Tony hefted large rocks into each of the four corners. By then, darkness ruled the tiny cove.

While the men built the bonfire, Sarita readied the Phagwa essentials. She filled dozens of squeeze bottles with colored water. A machine-gun burst of crackling reached her ears and she shot a dart over one shoulder.

Flames from a crater-sized bonfire licked four feet into the air. Her gaze met Tony’s. He sprinted to her side sending fine sand grains into a wide arc.
“Everything ready?”

“Yes. You carry the bottles, I’ll take the thandai.”

Rolan relieved her of the milk-based drink when she reached the fire.

“Food’s ready,” Austen called out.

Lobster had never tasted so wonderful. Everyone loved the Thandai, and Sarita listed the ingredients for them: almonds, milk, poppy seeds, cardamom, watermelon seeds, anise, and sugar. Stomachs full, they sat around the fire chatting.

Sarita slipped a CD into a portable player.

Clashing cymbals and drums rented the peaceful swish of lapping waves.

Tony launched a surprise attack as soon as the Phagwa CD began to play.

Her son’s hooting and hollering rose above the drums as he sprayed his father from head to toe from two squeeze bottles.

Wearing a janitor’s belt with several bottles, Suresh joined Tony in his assault.

Rolan curved his forearms over his face and curled into a ball.

“I’m gonna get you both for this,” he yelled.

Sarita couldn’t help it she burst into laughter. Red liquid dripped from Rolan’s face onto his yellow chest creating orange streaks. Horizontal blue splashes colored most of his left arm, while mottled splotches covered the right. White trunks, once pristine, resembled a crazy kaleidoscope pattern. As for his legs, beach sand clung to the sparse flesh the dyes hadn’t stained.

Behind Rolan, Tony, and Suresh, Harry, Austen, and Terry battled.

“Now, Mom,” Tony shouted.

Sarita took off in the opposite direction.

Tony tackled her to the sand.

Rolan ran to her rescue.

Sporting a giant-sized gun, he aimed at his son. A staccato burst of red dye raked Tony head to toe.

Her son rolled off her back and Rolan soaked her T-shirt.

“No fair, Dad’s using a paintball gun.” Tony hopped up and down.

The melee escalated until their PP supply ran out.

An hour later, order restored, Rolan and Sarita sat side by side at the water’s edge. The rising moon cast a long silver reflection on the Mediterranean’s rocking surface. Strong ocean breezes had washed away the clambake’s aromas.

“That was fun,” Rolan said.

“Where’d you get the paintball gun?”

“I spend a week on the Glory every summer. Last year before we cruised, Geoff and I hit a paintball park. We bought two guns. I remembered.”

A distant hum reached her ears; she squinted at the yacht centered in the middle of the bay. “Is the Glory leaving?”

“Terry’s taking her for a spin. He’ll be back in an hour. Do you know, future Mrs. Paxton, that I’ve never made love on a Mediterranean beach?” He held her hand, stood, and pulled her up. “We’re skinny dipping first. I have PP in places where the sun doesn’t shine.”


I hope you enjoyed that little taste,

Have a great weekend, and be safe during Ike if you happen to be in its path,


Jianne Carlo

4 comments

  1. Nightingale // September 12, 2008 at 5:57 PM  

    I'm directly in the path of Ike so I read your enticing excerpt to keep my mind of it. Love the title, too, by the way.

  2. Mary Ricksen // September 12, 2008 at 6:14 PM  

    Jianne you have again given us insight to a practice that I'd never heard of. I love when a writer teaches me something!
    I don't care what I did, you are not going to squirt me with any colored water.

  3. Mary Marvella // September 12, 2008 at 11:16 PM  

    Learning and entertainment, both. good job, JC.

  4. Anonymous // September 14, 2008 at 1:04 AM  

    Jianne, great excerpt. I enjoyed reading the it. Having spent 10 days there this summer, I am in love with all things Mediterranean, could just imagine the yacht at anchor overlooking one of those wonderful beaches.

    Linda, be safe.

    Scarlet Pumpernickel