Holi always reminds me of Umar. I've never been a fan of the festival, but the sheer joy and delight on his face when he played with colours made me very happy. Umar loves colours dearly, and when I went to visit him at Tihar last week, he told me that he misses colours more than anything else inside jail.

He described to me in great detail, one of those occasions when he was out for court production during winter, and was returning to the prison after sunset. He said that it had been a long, long time since he had seen the city at night, as he wasn't allowed to step out of his home even during his seven-day parole.

It was also by chance that the police van, in which he was being taken, happened to take a longer winding route through the city, as it was the wedding season and there was heavy traffic on the roads. Through the metal mesh of the police van, he was able to catch glimpses of the glimmering lights and bulbs at the wedding venues, and finally realise how much he missed the sights and sounds of the city he grew up in, especially at night.

It was almost as if he had forgotten the feeling of seeing so many colours together. "In jail, you feel your life become monochromatic, because of the monotonous rhythm and the restrictions of space. You see the same tired eyes, the same listless wait on the faces, and you forget how colours bring a vigour to life and its mundanities".

It was inexplicably sad to hear him, knowing how much he loves colours. Ironically, he told me that at this juncture, he found himself determined to adjust to this monochromatic monotony, given the political environment that we find ourselves in today, and the uncertainty that we have been witnessing in the bail hearings in his case.

I kept thinking to myself how the elusive nature of justice in itself is deeply unjust, and whether the freedom he will get after he is released could really be called "justice", after all this time that he has spent being wrongfully incarcerated.

But I didn't waste too much time in feeling sad, since we can't afford that in the midst of the perpetually wrecked phone sets in the ‘mulaqat’ area and the fast-ticking clocks on which the prison guards always have one eye. I cracked numerous terrible jokes, even a notch worse than he usually cracked, just to hear and see him laugh. And laugh, he did, for quite a while, even as I knew that he'd perhaps not smile again till he saw a loved one in court or till the next ‘mulaqat’ took place.

On the day after the ‘mulaqat’, I went to see him in court, where he wasn't given five minutes to see his friends or steal a hug before being hastily whisked away by the police. But I did get a warm "thank you" from him, for the kurta I took for him to Tihar for Eid, and the fragrance that had passed over in it.

He told me, "You know, along with colours, I also dearly miss the fragrances of a free life. I think I will give you all my dirty clothes from now on, so you can return them clean and smelling wonderful!"

I don't know how he manages to go from one day to another inside, and how he copes in the unfathomable darkness. But I do know that if a few minutes of laughter and an occasional wonderful smelling piece of cloth make him happy and keep him afloat, then I will make sure that I do whatever is possible to hear his laughter ring in my ears, long after our ‘mulaqat’ concludes.

Happy Holi dost. May you smell your freedom and dance in the colours of happiness with us very soon.

Apeksha Priyadarshini is a scholar of Cinema Studies and is associated with the Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students Organisation at JNU.