March 23, 2008

I hate holi. Ever since I was a child, I have never enjoyed this festival. I just don’t have the required degree of extroversion, nor the required minimum level of comfort with the dirt, the disorder, the shocking physical liberties, and the sheer exuberance to enjoy the festival.

For those who don’t know, holi is the festival of colours and is celebrated by throwing or smearing people with coloured powders. That’s the formal version – the more rugged versions range from water or wet colours to raw eggs, paint, grease, oil, or anything else that you can get your hands on that can be smeared or smudged onto your near and dear ones. Or, if it comes to that, onto any passing stranger too. Why you would want to coat known and unknown people in such filth beats me; and how you could enjoy either meting out or being on the receiving end of such treatment has me equally perplexed; and how you can presume to lay hands on not just the face and hair, but also the arms, legs, backs, and chests of the old and young, male and female has me completely stumped; but all that notwithstanding, holi is an immensely popular festival with those who celebrate it.

Holi is typically played in neighbourhoods and the action usually lasts all morning and winds up in time for a late lunch, after a long clean-up session. In my childhood, I had made a fine art of hiding from enthusiastic revellers on holi-day.Since we gave up being neighbourly about ten years ago, I haven’t had to worry about dodging the holi spirit for a very long time. This time, I didn’t have an opportunity to bring out and put to use my evasive skills – holi entered my sedate life from a backdoor that I wasn’t even aware existed (so to speak).

It was Amit’s boss who invited us to join them in celebrating holi. It was difficult (impossible?) to decline the invitation, the more so since he had been wanting for some time to meet the twins.

So, despite my wails of protest, yet another weekend saw us rushing around trying to make it out of the door in time for an 11 a.m. invitation. Naturally, it was past 10.30 by the time we left, and as Amit’s boss stays at the other end of the world as far as Bangalore is concerned, this was not good. Moreover, Amit decided to use technology to get us to the venue and was using GPS navigation on his cellphone to find his way. So it’s not surprising that we got lost multiple times, and had to resort to increasingly desperate measures such as trying a paper map, asking bystanders on the roadside, and finally being forced to call the host for navigational aid.

We reached at 12.30 to find the party in full swing. A nightmarish crowd of colours came rushing towards us and smothered us in a haze of powder, though we knew nobody there (no, they didn’t spare the kids). I had optimistically expected a decorus type of holi in which everyone pats a little colour on your cheek and then everybody sits down and sips glasses of juice amidst small talk, so I and the kids had gone well dressed. The kids were wearing brand new tops bought by my sister in Thailand (on a trip, that is, she doesn’t stay there) and sent express delivery by Blue Dart courier. Both were pastel shades, cream and pale pink. I was in a rather dressy and quite new salwar-kameez, cafe au lait and bright blue. Our lovely outfits were doomed within seconds.

The kids and I found a quiet corner from where we could observe the action without being bombarded too often. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, the kids gradually began to unwind and take some interest in their strange new environment, but it wasn’t until about 2 p.m. when the fun was all over, that they really got involved. Someone introduced them to a small box of leftover organic colour (organic! I didn’t know such things existed) and after a little hands-on encouragement, they got the idea. For the next 15-20 minutes, they sat sweetly in middle of the just-swept floor and got their hands dirty. Well, not just their hands, of course. The rubbed the colour over their own and each other’s hair and faces, and dropped it liberally on their skirts and on the almost-clean floor. For just a short time they were absolutely the focus of attention and blissfully and completely unaware of it.

At last, we interrupted their act to get them cleaned up and give them lunch. It was a little after 3 when we left, and mercifully we ditched the satellite and just used homing instinct to navigate back, taking just an hour to get home. Now we only had to bathe wash hair and change the twins (I couldn’t face the prospect of a second bath for them, so I just dusted them off and left it at that) and then I could have the indisputable pleasure of trying to get the colour out of the clothes. After rinsing them several times and then stuffing them in the washing machine, they still look like rags. The colours have all run into one another to give a uniform look somewhere between dull grey and mud brown. The lace on the kids’ pretty shirts, which started out white, is now best described as mottled. I could almost weep.

This is not my idea of a relaxing way to spend a holiday.

It doesn’t seem as though I’m going to be able to forget this trauma any time soon, either. I only have to take a bath and the horrid slime-green stain on my chest where some considerate soul had thrust colour down inside my decently buttoned-up kurta rudely reminds me of it. Oh, I hate holi.

%d bloggers like this: