A dear friend of non-Indian origin posed a curious question on an early spring evening, “So you have like designated day to smear each other in all kinds of colours, get soaking wet and have marijuana milkshakes as a community?”
As I almost choked on my wine, I managed a broad baffled smile and said, “Well yes, in some parts of India this does happen, but the marijuana milkshakes are not compulsory. This day is Holi – a festival that leaves more than a mark. It is likely that you adorn an odd magenta or teal shade on your face (or entire body) for two weeks after Holi. This, of course, depends on how much you dived in the spirit of the festival and in what kind of colours. The evening before Holi celebrates the triumph of good over evil by burning the Holi pyre and the day of Holi is one of magnificent madness. People get hugely innovative with the colour tease each year but the Drink and Dance culture largely remain the same.”
At certain places in India, Holi is celebrated in the traditional manner of the specific region; however, in an urbane metropolis like Delhi, the traditions mingled and have now diluted to a large extent. As the traditions take a backseat, a lot of festivals start seeming similar – people come together, eat good food and merry around and for most of these occasions you wear ‘good’ clothes but Holi gives a license to blotch these fine clothes with colours. As a festival of colours it does, however, stand out, it’s visual appeal cannot be discounted and photographers sure bank a lot on that.
There once was a time when natural colours, flowers from the Tesu, Palash, Dhaak plants would be immersed in earthen water pots to use as colours for Holi. During the Mughal times in Delhi, Holi was known as Eid-e-Gulabi (Pink Eid) or Aab-e-Pashi (Shower of Colourful Flowers). The festival invited you to drop all inhibitions, rejoice in togetherness and be voluntarily clad in a myriad of natural colours.
Take me to that time – that is the Holi that I understand as Holi. I feel as a misfit in the contemporary Holi celebration of – beer; not bhang – skin-irritant colours; not flowers – colour dye in water; not rose-water – bollywood songs with sexist lyrics; not folk songs – chocolate; not gujiya. Or maybe I was born a couple of decades too late, but the romantic whiff of Holi that could have been – surviving fantastically in me.