The Bluebottle Boys: Holi, Holika, St. Patrick’s Day… and Trouble (Part 1)

The Bluebottle Boys: Holi, Holika, St. Patrick’s Day… and Trouble (Part 1)

HolikaPerhaps Mum, Dad and I should have all gone off to Solihull, instead. Auntie Gene’s birthday was 17 March. We all could have celebrated and I well might have avoided all the problems that followed. But, Auntie Gene’s “special fella,” had taken her to Paris for an extended birthday weekend, while Grammer babysat her digs in Hammersmith, so there was no reason for us to go. More significant, perhaps it was fate: Ian, Stan and I had all been meant to have all those problems, something that would always bind us together

Stan’s and my first excursion to a Minors Club screening with Ian in tow went as swimmingly as could be expected. Ian had even come to know some of the other club members – but he’d had Mum drop him off a block or so from the theatre, where his driver waited. Apologizing copiously, he claimed prior commitments, and he couldn’t be with us that afternoon or evening. And, tonight was Holika, a celebration not unlike Guy Fawkes’ Bonfire Night, with music, dancing, fireworks, song and storytelling round a bonfire.

To be accurate, Holika would be on the 19th, but since that would be on a Monday night, it was decided to celebrate it on Saturday night, the 17th, more convenient for most people.

It was a celebration based on a Hindu tale of a young prince named Prahlad, who worshiped God, and refused to worship an evil king who demanded he be worshiped instead. The evil king tricked Prahlad into sitting upon the lap of Holika, a witch-demon, as she sat atop a bonfire. Unknown to the prince, Holika wore a shawl protecting her from the flames, and she intended to trap and incinerate the prince. But, as Prahlad prayed, the wind changed at the final moment, blowing the shawl off Holika and onto him, saving his life and burning Holika, the witch-demon, to death.

I was having a fine time, absorbing and appreciating the Asian-flavored, early-spring form of the Bonfire Night I knew so well, but shortly after the main fireworks, Stan motioned me away from the group. I followed, still curious why he’d want to leave the fun of the celebration (to say nothing of the fire’s warmth) to wander off alone in the dark, with the biting night air 0° Celsius at the warmest. As we ducked behind a shrub, he opened his coat, revealing two large water pistols in his waistband, each capable of a strong blast with near pinpoint accuracy from 25 feet. Holika’s “coinciding” with St. Patrick’s Day had become too tempting for him, and Stan had decided to get an early – very early – start on Holi.

Holi was observed on the day after Holika; this year it would fall on 20 March, a Tuesday.

So, as just they had with Holika, Birmingham’s Indian community had pushed the Holi celebration back two days, observing it instead on Sunday, the eighteenth.

Holi was based on a story about how Krishna, as a boy, had turned blue after drinking poisoned milk: poisoned, some said, by the demon Putana, others by the same witch-demon Holika, but poisoned all the same. Embarrassed, he’d hid. When the Gopis, the girls who loved Krishna, came to play, he refused to come out of hiding. Then his mother empowered them to become any color they wanted as well. When he saw that they’d turned colors, too, he stopped hiding and joined them once more.

The celebration could get rather rowdy, with people out carrying powerful water pistols (like ones Stan had with him) filled with bright (but washable) colored liquid, with everybody fair game for getting doused in a sea of liquid color. At close of day, everyone would wash up, and bring the day to a close with holiday treats. In larger communities, there was often a mela, or carnival-fair, too, but Birmingham’s Indian community wasn’t nearly prosperous, organized or large enough yet to put on such a thing. Stan had decided we’d get a jump on Holi.

He’d brought along washable coloring, primarily green, and had decided we’d take the bus into Washwood Heath, Alum Rock or some other Irish area of the city, find ourselves an appropriate pub and blast the drunks as they came out. We did just that, found an appropriate pub, overflowing with punters seeking to ward off the night air.

Then, we waited in anticipation of a good ambush or two.

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

It’s here! Here at last! The first edition of Volume 1 of “The Bluebottle Boys,” second novel of the Reggie Stone series, is now available from Amazon.

Yes, I’ll continue to serialise the novel (after all, we’re just now “up-to-speed” and into the “main story”). Not only will I serialise all “promised” chapters, I’ll be expanding the serial to include at least a few more chapters — maybe more than a few (how many more to be determined) — just for letting Reggie and his friends into your life.

They thank you, and so do I.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.