The festival of colors

It’s been more years than I can remember since I played Holi — the festival of colors — celebrated all over India regardless of caste, creed, religion, social status. The festival has strong religious undertones but that doesn’t seem to dissuade Christians and Muslims from celebrating the onset of spring with literally colorful exchanges.

Or throwing each other in tanks full of colored water.

I always enjoyed playing with the water colors more than the dry ones — you could squirt them on unsuspecting folks with a pichkaari (water gun) and mix colors to create your own trademark shade.

I didn’t have any siblings, so I used to gang up with the kids in my building … a group of 10 of us itching to engage in colorful combat. That was one day I would wake up before the alarm went off. Take care of my morning routine without any nudging. Demand breakfast before mom even had a chance to make the first cup of tea. And wear the whitest white clothing I could pull out of the closet.

I imagine every kid in our building could tell the same story.

We couldn’t wait to get outside and douse each other in color amidst a lot of shrieking and laughing. Running up and down the stairs, with no regard to the walls, doors, or vehicles. Everything, and everyone, was a shade of green, orange, pink, and red.

The picture on the right was taken when the boys in the building (there were seven of those little monsters) had broken my pichkaari. I wanted to pull their hair, rip their clothes off, slap them left and right, but all I could do was stare. I knew I was no match for them. I also knew that no matter what I did I wouldn’t get my pichkaari back — the one I had spent hours shopping for and even more hours cleaning and adoring. Thanks, dad, for capturing that moment of silent rage for posterity.

The only thing that could lure us back in after four to five hours of nonstop color-loaded mischief were the savory gujiyas. All the moms had the kitchen to themselves and they would solicit the help of their respective maids to create this absolutely heavenly concoction of crispy and sweet deep fried pastries.

The picture on the left shows my obviously upset mom who was pulled out of her kitchen at the time of gujiya-making by insistent adult revelers. Not a pretty sight. Note also the sprayed wall in the background. That was all us — no adult help required. 😀

We’d sun ourselves dry relishing each bite of the flavorful delicacy … and listening to the one song Holi was not complete without: “Rang Barse!” [watch below]

And then it was time to clean up.

This was the last real Holi I played … took me two hours to get the color off and even though my skin was wrinkly after those many hours in the shower, there were still some shades of stubborn blue and green that refused to be wiped into oblivion. They would serve as my badge of honor the next day in school … 🙂

We’d compare notes, sneak in some remaining color, spoil our uniforms, get chided by teachers and parents, but it was all in fun.

I was in my teens now and most of my childhood playmates had left the apartment complex … Holi then became just an excuse for the neighborhood boys to come and grope members of the opposite sex. I was no longer allowed to go out.

Just a simple tikka ceremony where mom, dad, and I placed a red dot on each family member’s forehead and then I’d help mom in the kitchen, or watch TV, or read a book — the festival lost its charm as soon as grown-up inhibitions emerged.

I lamented for a couple of years, but then moved on. I had had my fill for almost a decade. It had been a good run.

Now Holi comes and goes without any special celebration. Just a couple of phone calls to relatives in India and friends in the States … exchanging e-cards and e-mails … wishing people through status updates. And maybe something special for dinner.

I miss the squeals of laughter, the  joyful spirit of free abandon, the camaraderie, the sense of community the festival built. What I really miss is being 10 again.

Even though Asha organizes a Holi celebration at Stanford University every year, I’ve never attended the event. Not for lack of company … it’s just that playing Holi as an adult doesn’t compare to enjoying it as a child. It doesn’t even come close. Now I am too conscious, too inhibited, too “aware” to engage in a festival that requires physical proximity with strangers … to actually enjoy it.

And I don’t want to create any new memories of Holi that will overshadow the ones I have. So, this is my homage to the festival I once enjoyed.

A time of unbridled happiness.




Filed under Personal

6 responses to “The festival of colors

  1. I see a couple of familiar faces in those pictures, nice post. Thanks!

  2. hope that u had a great colorful holi 🙂

  3. Anon1

    Don’t write off something till you’ve tried it, especially something harmless like trying to relive that childhood magic.
    I had an identical experience growing up, loved playing Holi as a kid.. but then as soon as the teens ‘happened’.. wasn’t allowed..
    I’ve attended the ‘Asha Holi event’ at Stanford for the last 3 years.. and I had the same initial hesitation you have..
    My experience was all good.. no unnecessary attention, and hence no reason to be self conscious etc. Good music, good food (long lines for it though..).. and mostly just plain fun ! And I always find familiar faces among the sea of colored faces.. maybe you will as well! 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing Mansi, I’ve heard of this celebration before but never had the joy of experiencing it through the eyes of a child.



  5. I understand how you don’t want to overshadow your childhood memories. They are way too good and should be cherished and kept separately for they bring joy and happiness.

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