Before coming to India, I’d learned a bit about two major Hindu holidays – Diwali and Holi, both of which, between the lights and the paints, sounded like pure chaotic bliss. The festivities did not disappoint.
Today we celebrated Holi. The story behind Holi seems slightly convoluted (not surprising given the number of gods total and the number involved in each festival story, the number of forms they each take and the number of possible stories behind each holiday). To make a long story short, this guy tried killing his son in multiple fashions, but because the son was a strict follower of Lord Vishnu, he was protected by the gods and made it through every trial. Finally, the dad decided to have his daughter wear a special fire-resistant shawl and carry the son into a fire. Bad news. Shawl was mysteriously lifted from the girl’s shoulders – who was then burned to death in the fire – while the son survived. The girl’s name was Holika. Thus, the Holi festival. The night before Holi is celebrated with bonfires.
Don’t worry, good ol’ dad got his due – Vishnu came for him later.
Then there’s this whoooole color thing. Something about Krishna getting color painted on his face by his mom, and this happened during the Holi festival time. Something like that.
So around 9:00am this morning, the doorbell rings. I’d already been out running and had seen a few crowds of boys with colorful faces, so I knew the routine. But my landlord had said they weren’t playing Holi this because her son had exams the next day and they were locking the gate outside to avoid all craziness. Who could this be?
9:05am. I answer the door. It’s the housekeeper from upstairs. She’s probably in her early 20s, sweet girl, no English. She shows me one of her hands, full of yellow powder and beckons me outside. Svalpa, I tell her. Just a little.
9:07am. I change out of my tank and wash it vigorously, followed by a good face scrubbing. Fortunately, I’m not looking too jaundice. Back to the laptop.
9:15am. Text from Naveen: “You are invited to my home to play holi, feel free to bring friends.” Great! “Come anytime after 9:30,” he says. I’ll figure out what time everyone is heading over, probably around 10:30 or so, dressed in clothes I don’t mind destroying – I’d been warned.
9:18am. Doorbell rings. Geez! I don’t answer this time, I’ve already gotten my due and am planning to go out again. I hear a ruckus and some shouting. I wait a second and then feel guilty – better see what’s up and make sure nobody is in trouble. I scoot open the door and am met by three bright pink faces. What the heck?!!! Who let these crazies in my house?! I don’t KNOW this guy. While I’m screaming “beDa” (I don’t want any!), they’re forcing my door open – turns out it’s my landlord’s brother. I promise them I’ll be out in an hour, they shake on it and head out.
9:31am. Doorbell rings. Again? Really? Doorbell rings A LOT. Some pounding. This time Arati and Lesley start yelling that we’re being surrounded by a mob … which turns out to be my Fellows and Naveen (who was apparently unrecognizable). Guess they couldn’t wait for me to get to Naveen’s house. I come to the window – they really DO look like a mob and are difficult to identify with all the gunk they’ve got all over themselves. I put up a finger and tell them I’ll be out in a minute.
And so I go. And so I got it. Powder of all colors, smeared into paints, and buckets and bottles of water just to rub it in. I’ve got at least 20 pairs of hands rubbing the color into my face, ears and hair, and about 30 seconds into, I look like I’ve been hit by a rainbow typhoon.
We spent the next hour and a half trooping through Naveen’s neighborhood, throwing color on the unsuspecting (actually, I’m sure they knew what was coming – if I knew, they knew) passerby and applying new colors to each other with a vengeance, breaking only for holiday sweets and snacks. Somehow, it was endlessly entertaining. If my eyes hadn’t started to burn and I’d had a tissue to blow my nose (hey, what can I say? I’ve been sick.), I woulda stayed around for a bit longer, just to witness the scene.
As you’re reading this, I’m probably still tinged with a hue of peacock blue.