Mamantri Kaka. That is how Parsu Narayan Chaudhari was introduced to me. It was only later that I understood that ‘mahamantri’ was his designation in the Nepali Congress Party, after which I switched to calling him Parsu kaka. It was painful to hear that he passed away recently. As soon as I read the news, memories took me back to the days spent in his company in Calcutta. Those were fun days, despite the crowd that lived at my place in 27 Janak Road. He lived in an apartment not very far from us, because he had a family and 27 Janak Road was already overcrowded, but we enjoyed festivals together. My best memory of Parsu kaka is from one of those festivals in Calcutta.
The year was 1964, and the day was one day before holi. 27 Janak Road was full of people. There were the permanent residents consisting of our family, Gumba’s (Basu Dev Risal) family, and dada’s (Achut Raj Regmi) family. And then there were Kailash kaka (Kailash Nath Upadhyay), Kosu kaka (Keshab Prasad Koirala) and Nona kaki, Batuk Kaka (Batuk Prasad Bhattarai), Pidali kaka (Kesheb Raj Pidali), Biru dai (Bir Bahadur Poudel), and helpers Til Bahadur and Ram Bahadur. Batuk kaka had just come in, bringing with him all the fun and joy of holi. As soon as he arrived, he said, “Yes paali ta bhang ghotne hai? Yo holima ta ramailo garna parchha!” Gumba and dada laughed at his child like enthusiasm, and Kailash kaka and Pidali kaka joined in. We children had no idea what they were talking about, but were paying full attention to the conversation because we heard the word ‘ramailo’ somewhere. Then someone realized that we were listening with plenty of interest, and that bhang was not the right word to use in front of children, so they switched to thandai. We wanted to know what it was, and were told that it was some kind of lassi, and that was that! We slept with a lot of anxiety, looking forward to the fun the next day!
By the time we woke up the next morning, Batuk kaka was already busy grinding pistachios, almonds, and other mysterious objects—he had come prepared to have fun! The adults decided to start holi only after breakfast, which was aloo bhareko roti. Immediately after breakfast, Batuk kaka brought up thandai, and the ritual of drinking thandai started. We kids got pure lassi with nuts, minus the bhang. Thandai with bhang was only for adults.
As soon as thandai started doing the rounds, it started working its magic! Officially, holi at our house started with Gumba putting red tika on everyone’s forehead, but it did not stop there. Soon enough, different colors started coming out, and color frenzy struck everyone! There was a lot of yelling, laughing, and running around for some time, with everyone grabbing someone else to smear color on them. By afternoon, most people were ‘mast’ with thandai and were in a mood for fun! We were all waiting for Parsu kaka to come. His delay clearly indicated that he was avoiding the colors. Our patience was running out, and so were the colors.
Around 1 pm, we were all tired when someone suddenly came in with the news that Parsu kaka had arrived with his family. Now the question was how to color him, as we had run out of colors. My mother and Mamy (Achyut kaka’s wife) decided to mix neer (blue color) with water and spill it all over the veranda. As soon as Parsu kaka entered the house, someone grabbed him and dragged him into the colored water. His white kurta became all blue. He had assumed that holi was over, and was wearing white kurta pajamas. After plenty of wresting and scuffling, Parsu kaka finally got up, totally exhausted and completely blue. Kaki started laughing and so did the others. One after another, everyone was dragged into the blue water just for fun. Finally it was over, and people started leaving with laughter and good wishes.
It was time to clean up and eat lunch. We all knew Parsu kaka loved aloo bhareko roti, so he was served the rotis without even asking. He started eating, and apparently enjoyed it so much that he just didn’t stop, though I guess the ‘thandai’ had something to do with it! Finally, after eating six or seven of them, he decided to stop, but only with the promise that he would have some more before he left. At the end of the day, there was a lot of laughter as reviews of a great day continued. I still remember Parsu kaka and his cheerful face with eyes semi closed in laughter.
Even now, when I remember those days, these scenes come to my mind vividly, and my whole body tingles with the excitement of that day. I am glad that I had the opportunity to spend time with a person who was enlightened enough to help his wife become empowered, at a time when most people considered women’s empowerment to be pointless. I remember him helping his wife figure out the details of cutting and sewing, because she was not literate. Kaki did not even speak Nepali properly at the time, but that did not stop him from encouraging kaki to learn in a language that was totally alien to her. By the end of the course, kaki was able to do everything that her classmates did. I was amazed at Parsu kaka’s patience. I wonder if any other person would have encouraged his wife so much, especially if she was illiterate. I salute him for his foresight and his belief that women have the right to be as enlightened and empowered as men.
It is hard to believe that Parsu kaka is no more, but life has to go on and memories of him will stay with me. Now that I think of it, I was introduced to him in early sixties. It feels like yesterday, but time does have a habit of flying by too fast for our liking. Anyways, the time I spent in his company was wonderful, and I will always cherish it. I still remember him every time I make aloo bhareko roti or celebrate holi, and will continue to do so!
The author is an education specialist, consultant, and author of several children’s books