Last year, DiploDad and I didn’t pay much attention to the calendar in the second semester of the school year. What we did know is that we had a three-day weekend in March and that we wanted out of the Big City, so DiploDad booked us a trip to Goa.
And then, we found out the reason for the long weekend was Holi. Which is not really celebrated in the Catholic-majority state of Goa. Ooops.
Holi is the spring festival of colors and is celebrated in India and other parts of Southeast Asia in either March or February, according to the Hindu calendar. Holi celebrates the victory of good over evil, and the word “Holi” comes from the name of the demon Holika, who tried to burn a devotee of Siva and wound up burning herself. http://ow.ly/10qpKI
But what everyone knows about Holi is the colors. Holi is celebrated by people throwing colored powder, that the Indians call gulal, on each other and spraying each other with colored water. As my friend, C, aptly put it, “So it’s like a cross between a water fight and a Color Run.” Yup, that about sums it up.
I’d been warned last year that sometimes, people don’t play nice. Some of the colors are not made of the purest ingredients and can actually be harmful. Every year, someone goes blind from something nasty (aka, lime) in one of the powders when it gets into his or her eyes – this year in Mumbai, two people lost sight. Moreover, some of them are relatively permanent, which is a pain if you’ve black hair, but I’m blond and so is DB2, so if we got hit with that stuff, we’d have purple or green hair for months.
So we cloistered ourselves. I asked our dog-walker to come an extra shift. I just knew if I set foot outside of my building compound, I’d be attacked by the small group of little boys I’ve named “Team M” (Manoj, Manish, Mahesh & Deepak). I wasn’t completely wrong – the dog came back from his morning walk with a lovely pink streak on him.
We didn’t skip the frolicking entirely though – our building society had a Holi party planned, and we were all game. We bought our tickets well in advance, and even scored some all natural, herbal, edible gulal.
The day of the party, the DiploBoys and DiploDad put on their swimsuits, I pulled on a pair of old jeans, and we all donned some of DD’s old white undershirts. You’ve gotta rock the white, in my opinion – the better to see the color. DB2 and I, blondies that we are, put some almond oil in our hair to thwart the colors. Almond oil – or vegetable oil, or olive oil – helps protect the hair from the color taking hold and turning you into some kind of rainbow-headed freak. Or so I had been told. We also wore bandanas on our head for extra protection. And DB2 put on some goggles. We waited until we heard the DJ kick things off, and a good forty minutes past the “start” we headed down.
A bunch of kids were already there, grabbing gulal from the maintenance staff and chasing each other all around. Some adults were there, but only a few were in the fray.
For the most part, Holi this year was dry. Maharashtra has been officially in drought for the last few years. The last two Monsoons have been pitiful, and the reservoir and supply for Mumbai is dangerously low. As I write this, an area called Thane, which is a suburb of Mumbai, has had water supply cut down to four days a week. Last year, over 600 farmers in the state committed suicide as a result of not being able to farm, raise crops or cattle, or pay off their debts – all as a result of drought. A couple of kids did manage a few of the traditional squirt canons, but the amount of water was minimal.
Back to the fun . . . .
We started out just playing Holi among ourselves and the other expats, before I branched out and started nailing a bunch of the kids who I could tell were dying to just powder us. After ten minutes or so, I recognized some of my friends from the building and then we began the gulal fight in earnest.
DiploDad got hit by a group of small children, and laughed like a maniac. DB1 got a handprint from a pretty girl who chased him down. I got a few little smears and some hugs and wished my neighbors and friends Happy Holi, and Happy Spring. And then I got a bucket of color dumped on me!
We took a quick break for some snacks, which were set up on bicycles.
It’s kind of cool, but I only recently noticed that a lot of the traditional bicycles have a modified kickstand where the bike doesn’t lean, but stays upright. This enables deliverymen, mostly the dabbawallas who deliver lunches all over Mumbai, to hang their parcels onto the bike while it’s upright and stable. The snacks were yummy – mostly chaat.
After we rejoined the powder fight, things got crazy. Music was blaring, we were dancing, color was flying, and one of the girls yelled to me, “DiploMom, I think you should get drunk today!!!”
I will take this brief opportunity to inform you that my building has many Jains and Brahmins that are teetotalers. So this was a little surprising to me until I remembered that last year we had warnings not to drink things that were just handed to us. Even the strictest Hindus will throw caution to the wind and tie one on with this awesome stuff called “Bhang”.
OK, so maybe as someone connected to the U.S. government shouldn’t use the word “awesome” when talking about bhang. I’m not about to reprint the recipe I found, but I’ll give you the link – http://www.holifestival.org/bhang-recipes.html And I’ll say that one of the main ingredients, besides the very addictive ingredient of sugar, includes a schedule I drug under the federal sentencing guidelines that rhymes with Terry Wants To.
Anyway, the alarm bells ringing in my head, I look over to the side, and there is DiploDad and another neighbor, with glasses of this milky-white brownish liquid raised in a toast. That are half empty. Uh-oh.
So I walk over to DiploDad, smear him with some yellow powder and whisper, “That stuff has crazy ingredients – you know?”
“Not here – they’re too conservative. No way – it’s fine. Try it!”
Whatever, dude – it’s your urine test.
Anyway, I noticed nothing new with him later on that day, so maybe it was virgin bhang, but I did notice that a lot of people said on the ladies’ WhatsApp chat later on in the day that everyone in the house had taken a nap.
Eventually, everyone started dancing, and I joined in the circle while we all jammed out to Yo Yo Honey Singh. Who is awesome, by the way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8F5dz8kv1w
About half and hour later, I noticed I was losing family members one by one as they grew tired from all the fun and went upstairs to clean up. I left, tired, reconnected with my neighbors in a way I hadn’t since last festival season, and ready for a nap.
I swear it wasn’t the bhang.