The Composition period was a weekly fixture for about six years of my school life. They were meant to encourage creative writing among young students in both English and Hindi, but often their purpose was defeated, due to the lazy selection of topics. The year (especially in the Junior classes) invariably started with “Myself”, a pedantic account of who we were (age, class, physical description, parental occupations) and our interests (with studying being a most ubiquitous hobby). As the year progressed the teacher asked us to write on “Rainy Day” and “I wish I were...”. And then, there was always the Indian calendar, crammed with festivals and national holidays to fall back on. However, I am quite sure Janmashtami never came up in all of those six years. Pity, since it was always my favourite festival (okay no, but it did come right behind Holi).
The fun started the night before, where we (a gaggle of ten 10-12 year old girls) would get together to strategise about our jhanki- a static representation of the scene of Lord Krishna’s kidnapping by his evil uncle. And his subsequent rescue by someone else. I am still a little sketchy on the details to be honest. The meeting would involve taking stock of all the toys we could get to decorate the scene, besides the indispensable baby Krishna and his Uncle. People would volunteer to get earthen dolls, generally hand-painted to look like men and women from the Indian countryside, though sometimes an American Barbie would also make her presence felt. I am certain one year, someone said that they had a miniature version of a hand-pump that we could use. We agreed. Mostly though, we tried to be historically accurate (more than some younger children, at any rate, who were not even shy of placing a car or two in the background). There were other bells and whistles too-if an old shoebox were available, we would fashion out a cradle (a reliable crowd puller) out of that.
The evenings required sprucing up for the Puja, mainly conducted by one or two of those people in the group who knew a few devotional songs. The less spiritually inclined amongst us would stand at the back and mumble the words through, mind strongly focussed on the wonderful prasad that Akanksha’s mother would rustle up every year. That, and the afore-mentioned cradle were extremely important to bring in the crowds, as well as their donations. My favourite bit, then, was when we counted all the money, inflated it by a certain amount and then made public to the rest of the groups. Since this creative accounting was quite popular among everybody, it didn’t matter much in deciding who the ‘winner’ was. There was a lot of preening involved if we won, but even if we didn’t, it never mattered. We distributed it amongst ourselves (with the exception of one year, I am regularly reminded), and then spent in on ice creams, while recounting the fun we had had during the day. I would promise at the end of the night that I would be the first person down, the next year. Someone would let out a disbelieving snort and raucous laughter would resume.