In a brief interval between a harsh winter and an unpleasant summer, Delhi enjoys its own short-lived version of spring. At the first sign of better weather, our prickly sweaters would be packed away in the company of naphthalene balls in a large and inelegant steel trunk, and left to hibernate until the following winter. The nip in the air would gradually fade away, eventually giving way to warm sunshine.
My oldest (not necessarily my happiest) memories of spring are of Holi, an Indian festival that marks the arrival of spring. Holi is traditionally celebrated with colours and water, meant to be thrown at unsuspecting victims. For obvious reasons, Holi was a favourite among children of my age, often beating its closest competitor, Diwali, by a large margin. Holi, after all, is licence to make mischief.
For many years, the bathroom in our flat served as Holi headquarters for my brother and his friends as they frantically rushed in and out to arm themselves with water balloons and refill their water guns. I remember their excited squeals as they ran down the stairs to our home with their weaponry. At one lucky stage in his childhood, my brother had a particularly attractive water gun. It was expensive, as market leaders often tend to be. It was a giant plastic thing, yellow and green if I recollect correctly, bigger than average water guns of its time. Eventually though, as with all toys of our childhood, my brother managed to defeat it, breaking it into a couple of sorry pieces. It spent the rest of its disabled life on a ledge in the kitchen, packed away in sheets of newspaper with other broken fragments from our childhood including a Barbie that I had maimed, and immobile cars that had lost their wheels.
When we returned to school after our Holi break, the signs of revelry were everywhere to see. There would be faint splashes of colour on the floors of our apartment building and on the streets. At school, faces were tinged with blue, green, red, yellow and in some especially unfortunate cases, a mixture of all of these. The most daring Holi revellers played with metallic colours that stuck on stubbornly to scalps and faces even after multiple rounds of scrubbing. Despite my age, some deep human instinct told me to stay as far as I possibly could from the metallic stuff.
I have to confess that I have never been much of a Holi fan. I would spend the day in the balcony, hiding from my more boisterous friends, watching the revelry downstairs as adults and children doused each other in colour and water. My greatest complaint is that Holi comes too early in the year to warrant celebration with cold water. I have no doubt that I would be the first to celebrate if Holi were celebrated in the heat of May, when a surprise shower in the middle of the street would be quite welcome. But to have a bucket of cold water thrown on one's person in March, when there is still a perceptible nip in the Delhi air, is hardly fun.
I cannot recollect the last time I have had to confront water and colour. In a strange way, I miss it. This spring, Holi came and went without my noticing it. It was only when some of my friends posted their unrecognisable multicoloured Holi faces on Facebook, that I realised that in India, many excited children were making full use of their licence to make mischief as I worried about the pointless things that adults tend to worry about. A happy thought indeed.
Carrot Cake (adapted with modifications from this recipe accessed via this post)
1.4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup olive oil
3 large eggs, well beaten
3 medium carrots, finely grated
100g raisins (I omitted the raisins as I had run out of them, and substituted with sliced almonds instead)
3 tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of garam masala
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease the base and sides of a square cake tin with oil and dust with flour.
Tip the sugar into a large mixing bowl, pour in the oil and add the eggs. Lightly mix with a wooden spoon. Stir in the grated carrots, raisins/almonds and vanilla extract.
Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices, then sift into the bowl. Lightly mix all the ingredients - when everything is evenly amalgamated stop mixing.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 40- 45 minutes, until it feels firm and springy when you press it in the centre. Cool in the tin for 10-15 minutes, then turn it out, and cool on a wire rack. (You can freeze the cake at this point.)
Cream Cheese frosting
4 oz cream cheese
4 oz unsalted butter
5-6 tbsp honey
rind of one large lemon/orange
Bring the ingredients to room temperature. Beat together in a small bowl until smooth and spreadable. Layer on top of the cake.