Thursday, March 3, 2011

Holi Is Around The Corner

When the nights started getting warm and the days warmer, when the woollen clothes felt burdensome every now and then, when you thought that you better open your windows, you knew that Holi was around the corner. The palash (flame of the forest, tesu) tree outside our window would come alive with little orange buds every year at this time. Soon, the whole tree was a riot of bright orange blossoms, their flames leaping towards the sky, leaving the tree completely bereft of its green foliage. This was my favourite harbinger, marking the turn of the seasons.

Photo by Santosh Chandran, CC-BY-SA
Holi, in Delhi brought the winter to an end. It came at a point when winter left Delhi, and summer was yet to arrive. It was the perfect time to shed your winter clothes, shed your inhibitions and join the party. But for years, we kept away from all the hullabaloo. We just did not like the loudness, the aggression and the mess that Holi brought with it. Why get doused with strong chemical colours that were not only hard to wash off, but were hazardous too? We wanted to avoid all this and preferred to stay put indoors, watching our neighbours who were hidden behind layers of powders and paints, from the safety of our home.

This went on for a few years. But our neighbours decided that they would not let us have the vicarious pleasure of playing Holi from the confines of our living room. So one fine Holi day, they rang the bell and knocked at our door, asking us to join them. We knew that they were armed with coloured powders, pastes and water bottles (pichkaris), ready to pounce on us as soon as they could, and so we decided not to open the door. The mob outside, though friendly, turned furious at our temerity and started pounding at the door with their fists. Some others kept the button of the bell pressed, making it shriek continuously. We were not sure if  keeping the door shut was wise, but we stuck to our stand anyway. The poor bell could not cope with the incessant pressure and fell silent. The thumping went on for some more time and then stopped. The group of revellers gave up on us and moved away, leaving us clean and dry, secure in our territory.

Even though we got what we wanted, we were somewhat uncomfortable because we had turned our neighbours away from our door without greeting them. We lived on the campus of an academic institute where my husband taught, so they were not only neighbours, but his colleagues too.

At the next Holi, we decided to participate in the celebrations in our campus. When we offered no resistance and went from door to door willingly with other people, they treated us as one of them and did not attack us with their deadly powders and coloured water, as they would most certainly have if we were to hide in a corner and show reluctance. Sure, they threw hot purple powder in my hair, and painted my face with fluorescent green, red and yellow, but the 'attack' was friendly, not ferocious. We followed this practice every year and soon became a part of the gang. The situation with chemical colours improved considerably as there were several campaigns against them in Delhi. People became aware of the dangers they posed and opted for organic colours that were safe.

Around noon, when everybody had played with colours to their hearts' content, a kind and generous neighbour used to invite all of us to his home for some refreshments. They had a neat garden outside their flat. Some of us sprawled on the lawn, while plastic chairs were hurriedly pulled out for others. The hostess disappeared in the kitchen to send platters of snacks for all of us. We felt very comfortable in each other's company in spite of all the mess on our clothes and bodies. It was at that instant that I understood the spirit of Holi. The Holi colours had the magical powers of hiding our formal demeanour and bringing out our true selves. We sat in that garden, sipping tea, munching on the savouries and soaking in the 'feel good' air around us. Taking a shower, washing the colours off our bodies and changing into clean clothes could surely wait for some time, couldn't it?


  1. Very nice post Lata ! It reminds me of my childhood days in Delhi, where I too lurked behind closed doors most years. I was traumatised once when a group of young men in the street next to us (nice young men really) lifted me bodily and threw me into a old tub full of coloured water. I never dared to go out after that. But playing Holi in a 'safe' environment later on was fun ! Suja

  2. Thanks Sujaa! Being thrown into a tub of coloured water was scary and so was being hit with water balloons! Never liked them. Our campus was kind of 'safe'.

  3. I so miss all that fun here. I was one of those who loved holi and went around coloring everyone. Here we do have the snacks but the color fun in missing.

  4. I can imagine, Priti. Though we live in India, many festivals are just not the same any more.

  5. Replies
    1. Thanks Rumela. Feels good to know that this post took you back to your memories of Holi!