My Travel Map

Saturday, March 07, 2015

What's holy about Holi?


I hate Holi. There I said it. Not that I hate it passionately or anything. Like the way I hate Greg Chappell, for instance. But still, in a kind of loose detached way. I just don’t like this festival. Somehow. Period.

I remember the dark days of my childhood when I really used to dread this holiday. Or Holi-day. Clichéd pun intended. I remember we used to stay in this rather quiet corner neighbourhood with not many children around. So my mother used to pack me and my brother off with a plastic bag of abir (gulaal or coloured powder) and a pichkari  each and literally pushed us out to play Holi with the kids in another adjoining colony. The lonely 10 minute walk to the other colony was terrible. It was torturous to imagine the horror of knocking on so many doors and interacting with adults and children akin. People who maybe you would stealthily walk past on a normal day. Your parents’ friends/ colleagues and their children. Not your friends. Is it necessary for the children of your parents’ friends to be your friends? Well my parents made that assumption at least in those early years.

Later, when I grew up a bit and we shifted out to another slightly higher class neighbourhood, I was able to talk my way out of playing Holi on most occasions. My parents would usually go out to the party hosted by the MD or ED or whoever, and I would chill. Ah the peace. By now, I think you are getting the drift. So let me make a small list why I just don’t get Holi.

Holi is not a festival for introverts

Yes, I am an introvert and I like it that way. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like hanging around with friends and family. In fact, that is probably the greatest pleasure in life. But getting felt up by friends of friends, acquaintances and strangers is not my cup of tea. On Holi, people seem to assume that you like being ragged. But nobody asks for limits. And everybody protests ragging in hostels. Ah the hypocrisy.

Holi encourages mob mentality

Now, did you assume then that I have never gone overboard with the colours bombs and monkey paint and so on? Of course, I have. But in a gang. Once you are part of a mob, you can take it out on any unsuspecting sissy the way you want. Drenching a sleeping guy and his room with pails of water just because he doesn’t want to come out and play? Check. Dunking someone in a dirty water tank? Check. Throwing water bombs at girls while riding pillion on a scooter? Check. When you are in a mob on this day, you feel all powerful, all conquering. During my college days, I was in that mob and we had fun. Its only now I realise that one man’s fun may be another man’s pain. The mob is not always right, but Holi teaches you otherwise.

Holi encourages substance abuse

What’s in that bhang anyway? And it’s so freely available and consumed during Holi, it blows my mind. Hey even the college canteens serve the stuff, if I am not mistaken. Why ban ganja then? To me, any intoxicant that tastes good will have to be evil. The easier it is to consume a drug, the less you know of the effect it will have on you. Many naïve ones have gotten so high on bhang once that they gave up the idea of getting responsibly high ever. So if you want to get high, work hard. Roll a joint. Drink some bangla. 60 up. Or if you have some money like me, drink the bitter stuff – beer and whisky. Get high on better days, and responsibly too.

Why do we have this festival anyway?

Yes, yes, I know Holi is probably the second most well known of India’s festivals globally, after Deepavali. It makes for some colourful photographs on travel brochures. But other than some mythological stories, I haven’t really understood why or when exactly we play Holi. It is festival of spring, sure, so it is played in the month of Vasant. But which day exactly, how is it determined is a mystery to me. It does not have any explicit religious significance either, unlike Deepavali (where the goddesses Lakshmi and Kali, among others, are worshipped in various parts of India), or the regional eponymous festivals dedicated to Durga or Ganesh. So why all the fervour, especially in the northern states of India? Is it the desi version of Valentine’s Day? One day when you can intermingle freely among the sexes and the tau will not protest? In Eastern India, we already have Saraswati Puja to usher in spring and for the boys to have a bit of fun. So maybe, Holi is not that important. What about the southern states? Do they even have a holiday?

All in all, I think it’s a festival that’s too in-your-face with an I enjoy it - you don’t enjoy- deal with it kind of mentality. Yes, it’s probably a great leveler but that’s about it. No great shakes.

P.S. To be taken with a pinch of salt. And maybe a slice of lemon.