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Published: March 23rd 2011
I decided to stay in Jaipur for the Holi festival, a party which I didn‘t know about until it was practically upon me. On Saturday the manager of my hotel recommended going to the Elephant festival. This was a super touristy event held at the Polo grounds. They had elephants, horses, and camels all extravagantly decorated. There was a huge crowd and though these things are usually distasteful it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. My favorite part was the announcers who kept saying things like “Look at what a wonderful time you are having. You are all enjoying yourselves so much. You are smiling and will remember this day forever.” I felt like I was being hypnotized into having a good time.
On my way back to the hotel things began to get interesting. On all the street corners people had set up bon fires and were burning an evil deity in effigy. Around each one was a crowd and people were drinking and setting off fireworks and firecrackers. Kids would run with a handful of firecrackers up to the flame, throw them in and then sprint away as huge explosion rocked the street. As I was
standing there I was hit in the stomach by a flying piece of debris from one of these explosions, which ended up leaving a welt. I mentioned this to one of the men standing around the fire and he shrugged his shoulders and said it happens from time to time. I had to laugh at the enormous cultural difference in the way west and east view risk. They were setting off bombs in a fire and things were shooting out of it right at eye level for any of the children which ringed the fire. Their opinion seemed to be that if they throw firecrackers into a fire and one of the kids gets their eye knocked out, it happens. I spent the rest of the evening making sure there was always another person between me and the fire.
Sunday I was awoken by Raj, a rickshaw driver who hangs around the hotel. He wanted to take me into the city. I vaguely knew that people were going to be playing a game called Holi, and that it involved getting covered in colors. Outside my hotel chaos reigned. Evil packs of children with squirt guns filled with colored water
sprinted up and down the street and people were throwing powder off their balconies. As soon as I walked outside I had a squirt gun pointed squarely in my face and a small miscreant bellowing “What’s you name” (My guess is that is the only English phrase he knew) in a demonic voice. I think my response was something along the lines of “I swear to god if you shoot me in the face with that water I will beat your ass.” I don’t know how much of that he understood but his reaction was to pull it from my face and instead shoot me in the crotch. Thus began my Holi.
Jaipur appeared to be a completely different city than the previous day. Women were conspicuously absent (probably at home fuming about their filthy, drunk, and stoned husbands). Flying by on motorcycles were groups of men completely covered in colorful chalk, many of them with a beer in their hands. I saw a kid who couldn’t have been more than twelve being dragged by his friends since he was so intoxicated he couldn’t walk. Raj looked at his watch and then turned around “It is 9 now, we
must be back by 1, after 1 there is too much fighting, not safe.” On street corners were groups of taxi drivers smoking Chillum, a combination of tobacco and marijuana smoked out of cylindrical pipe. They would mix the substances, pack the pipe, place a rag over one end and then light the other. A man was sprawled out in an alleyway, covered in colors. Whether he was already too intoxicated or a dead body that nobody had decided to pick up, or some gradation in between, I can’t say.
We stopped at a large group of people who had formed a circle and were dancing. There was music coming from a speaker system and we plunged in. Immediately the sight of a clean face had all the men walking over to me. We would each take a handful of powder and smear it across the forehead, cheeks and neck and then give a hug and a “Namaste.”
The crowd was outside of a temple complex. Raj took me by the arm and said that we needed to get some Bangalassi, that it was the best part of Holi. Inside the temple there was a courtyard. We took
off our shoes and immediately my socks were soaked by the fluid on the ground. To the left was a large golden bull. To one side men were praying while on the other they were mixing a milky substance by pouring it from one metal pot into another. There was a crowd of eager faces. We waded in and they began dipping ceramic tea pots into the fluid and passing it around. I took a small amount and tried to pass it off but the man next to me told me it was important to drink as much as I could. We stood there for quite a while until I thought we were both going to explode, then found our shoes and headed back out into the party. I began to feel sort of strange after this, like my perception of reality was beginning to shift. I asked Raj if there was anything I needed to know about the Bangalassi we had just chugged and he replied “very good for you, made with special plants legal one day only in India.”
Next we went to visit his guru. We walked through a small passageway into a small room that
was maybe 10x15 feet. On the back wall were pictures of Ganesh and Krishna and Hanuman. Seated in a rectangle were approximately ten men. The guru was a heavy set man with a huge white beard. His toes were evenly spaced and stubby in a way that suggests he was not in the habit of wearing shoes. The man seated to my right was deformed, his thumbs on both of his hands appeared to be split, as though each thumb was trying to split in half. The youngest member of the group, a man about my age, got up and danced while some of the others clapped and sang.
By the time we left we were quickly approaching our 1pm cut off time. Auto-Rickshaws full of drunk and stoned hooligans completely covered in colors were racing around the various city circles. Motorcycles were swerving in and out of oncoming traffic and the liquor stores along the street were crowded with men guzzling beers. We saw several police offers dragging a filthy belligerent drunk man. Behind them was a furious woman though I couldn’t tell if she was screaming at the man or the police or both.
arrived back at my hotel exhausted, filthy, and starving. Thus ended my Holi Day.
I also saw the Taj Mahal… it was very beautiful.
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