Edit Blog Post
Published: March 30th 2012
My first encounter with the Hindu Festival of Holi came in my first year of university whilst living with a girl from Delhi whose name I cannot now remember exactly, but know it was one of either “Kayak” or “Canoe.” I won’t, however, forget in a hurry how she almost set fire to us all in our sleep one night, nor am I likely to forget the day when she burst into our communal kitchen accompanied by many other fellow international students from that same subcontinent, all of them covered head to toe in food.
Previous to their arrival I had been sat at the table drinking tea with my Grandmother who was by chance visiting that day. Her reaction to the scene before her; this hoard of teenagers drenched in sour smelling, brightly coloured preservatives used in substitute of brightly coloured paint and ranging from jam, tomato ketchup, baked beans, milk and who knows what else, was displayed on her face as an expression of horror and disbelief, betrayed in her tightly puckered mouth and scrunched brow. My mother and I, highly amused, knew that look to be, “didn’t your mothers teach you not to play with your food?!”
The young boys who attacked me.
Since then I’ve paid attention to Holi, the Festival of Colour. I find it hard to believe that I was ever unaware of it as it seems to be portrayed in every medium of entertainment that touches on the subject of India; books, films, documentaries, they’re all hot for Holi! And why should they not be attracted in this exotic, colourful festival which is so different from any religious celebration that we “enjoy” in the West (though Dad did drawn a slight similarity to a well known Christian practise, describing Holi as “Ash Wednesday gone daft”).
Both Chris and I have dreamt of experiencing Holi for some time. We hadn’t planned to be on the subcontinent at that time, but it worked out that luckily (for me) our visit of Nepal would coincide with the festival. Unfortunately for Chris, he would be up in the mountains, far from the action, his response to which I dare not repeat. Being in Nepal however, with its unique brand of “Hindu- Buddhism”, I didn’t really know what to expect.
That morning we were in Pokhara, and after an early breakfast Dad and I decided to head down to the riverside
area to see what was going on in town. I was hoping for fantastic photo opportunities. The first people we came upon had their faces streaked in red paint and I asked to take their photograph. As a consequence they gave me a matching red “tika”, a spot on my forehead, and this scarlet smear was my downfall that morning...
As it was still early the celebrations had not yet reached full force as it would come lunch time, but still, everyone we passed on the street greeted us with “Happy Holi!” encouraged by my little red tika. Everyone we met wanted to add a little more colour to my face and it wasn’t long before it was thick in powder; an unusually bright camouflage. I had been eager to take photographs of the festivities but, as Chris had taken our camera on his trek I was left to use Dad’s new camera for which I would have to be responsible. I soon handed the camera back to its rightful owner as it was no longer possible for me to keep the delicate lens out of harm’s way.
We turned a corner off the main street to take
Nepali Ice Beer advert for Holi- "Feel Tough, Drink Strong!"
us towards a grassy pitch by the lake where we guessed more people would be “playing”. My colourful visage caught the attention of a group of young boys; a Holi mob. Buckets of water, no doubt filled from the dirty and polluted lake close by, were emptied over my head whilst small hands rubbed handfuls of colour; yellow, green, red, purple and magenta pink, anywhere they could reach. Once the attack was over the mob disbanded leaving me soaked and sodden, a dripping and vibrant mess. So much for being left alone should you ask, though Dad somehow managed to stay clean and took it upon himself to capture the moment of my demise.
A sullen looking teenager approached and I prepared my defences, ready to karate chop him in the throat if he came any closer, however this sulky lad came over to inform us of the dangerous chemicals in the powder that could lead to headaches and rashes. (I later read in a magazine how the paint is now made in China from a mixture of very toxic chemicals.) Being wet, getting cold and no longer able to take photographs, I decided it would be wise to
head back to the hotel and shower.
On the plus side, I proved to be the most popular foreigner in Pokhara that morning. During the long walk back to our hotel everyone rushed over to wish me a “Happy Holi!” and to add still more colour, some more gently than others. With the camera back in Dad’s possession he took ample photographic evidence of the gaudy progression.
The lengthy shower that I required to removed the paint that had dyed my skin and stuck thickly into my ears and various other nooks and crannies could not have helped the water shortage any. My clothes were ruined and my skin remained a diluted-purple tinge. Afterwards I sat on our balcony listening to the shouting and screaming of play-fights and spirited battles about the town. It was not long before curiosity took me back into the thick of it.
Rainbow spotted children ran riot amid the usually quiet streets, chasing one another and shouting their playful threats in mock menace. The smudged, speckled and streaked faces of the teasing infants had merged now into a thick mask of russet as the colours mixed. On each face two bright hazelnut
eyes gazed, appraising each passed by, estimating the individual’s reaction should they choose to pounce in the name of “Happy Holi!”
From behind a loose stone wall topped in orange honeysuckle came much commotion and to do. I poked my head into the garden which lay behind and found bigger kids (much bigger, around the 30 year mark) chasing one another in whirlwind-like turmoil with fists full of powder paints. They noticed me watching and invited me to play in their game, but this time I politely declined.
From the relative safety of a street side restaurant I watched the afternoon unravel. The resident foreigners couldn’t keep clean for long, and once dirtied were congratulated vigorously by the local people, “Happy Holi!” Bike gangs sped along the roads shouting and beeping and throwing hands to the air recklessly. With a victim in their midst they would jump off, attack and then back on their bikes once more.
The games lasted until nightfall and were accompanied by music and much merriment. The following morning the pavements were blemished and so too was the skin of all those who had a very happy Holi.
Tot: 2.548s; Tpl: 0.065s; cc: 14; qc: 43; dbt: 0.0663s; 2; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb