The Wednesday of the week we got back from Mysore happened to be Holi. I’m not sure what you all know about it, but we definitely all came in with our preconceived notions. We knew it was the “color festival,” and we knew that people threw colors at one another. We also knew that it could get really sketchy in certain cities, as people tend to pass out drinks liberally laced with bhang (that’s marijuana) or alcohol. Also, sometimes gangs will use Holi as an excuse to throw things like rotten tomatoes, garbage, eggs, and even diesel oil on one another. We’d also been told that the colored powders, particularly certain specific varieties, were very bad for your skin. But that was about all we knew about the holiday. Apparently when it first began, Holi was a kind of “opposite day,” when the highest ranking Brahmin rode backwards around town on a donkey, and the poorest man was king for a day. Nowadays though, it’s more of a community thing. The idea is that all the colors of the world are beautiful and worth celebrating (and apparently worth getting all over yourself?). We were all pretty excited. When the time came, we put on some clothes we didn’t care about, armed ourselves with colored powder and water guns, and set out.
As I think I’ve said, Tagore International house is about 2 kilometers from the rest of campus, so it was a bit of a trek to Gop’s, the student center area where Holi was happening. On our way down we slowly acquired some color as we got hit by some drive-bys on motorbikes, some little boys from one of the construction sites, and some guys in front of one of the hostels. This was nothing compared to what was going on at Gop’s though. Some of the other American students had already been there a while, and were almost completely unrecognizable. Colored powder was flying everywhere, as was water. A few unlucky people even got hit by eggs.
Maybe I should explain a little bit about the color fights first. Before I’d actually experienced Holi, I had been a little confused as to how the color fights actually worked. We’d been given powder and turkey baster-like water gun things. Were we supposed to mix the powders into water? You could if you wanted to apparently, but that’s not the best way. What you do is either throw powder at people (risky, as you might miss), or sprinkle/dump it onto them, or (this is the most effective and popular way) take a handful and grind it into your victim’s face, arms, or really anywhere at all. (Many guys came away with handprints on their chests.) Basically, it was tons of fun, and also pretty wild and crazy, complete with tribal-looking dancing. Also, most guys lost their shirts by the end. What happens is that a bunch of guys will grab another guys shirt and pull at it, and basically swing their friend around until his shirt rips off of him. This gives a whole new blank canvas.
When Gop’s got a little crazy, I went with a few girls to the ladies hostels, where all-girls Holi was going on. A lot of guys use Holi as an excuse to grope, so I guess that’s why they decided to have an all girls Holi. There was a very stern guard manning the gates of the ladies hostel. It was funny, as he never once cracked a smile, and probably would have been really intimidating. However, he was smeared with color, and I couldn’t really take him seriously. Anyway, the ladies hostels were really fun; all girls Holi does not mean sissy Holi. As they were in their dorm area, they had ready access to water and were not afraid to use it! Also, a girl from one of my classes found me and said “Abby, this is Holi. You’re supposed to be colored all over your body.” With this statement she poured powder down my back and down the front of my shirt. Mission accomplished!
When things started dying down, we headed back up to Tagore for lunch. But the adventure wasn’t over yet. We still had to shower. I got back later than a lot of people, so by the time I got into the shower, it was quite pink. No matter how much I scrubbed, I couldn’t get all the color off of me. Eventually I gave up and went down to lunch, still quite purple in the face. It took about a week to fully get clean. I was a little jealous of the blonds though. The pink stayed in their hair for a really long time, and actually looked pretty good for some of them!
I really think Holi is the best holiday ever, and everyone should have it. First of all, it’s about celebrating the beauty of all the colors of the world, and we really do need to work on appreciating all different colors. Also, it kind of makes you become friends with everyone; you can’t avoid or be shy around someone you’re slinging colored powder at. What was also great was that, after a while, you stopped being able to tell people apart. We no longer stuck out as white people. Everyone was just their own special mix of Holi. Clearly, skin color is a very stupid way of differentiating between people.