Friday, March 9, 2012

Holi Now

I’m only 27 so I shouldn’t speak so casually of ‘remember whens’, but I do recall a time when Holi was simple. When it was about colour, family, friends and good good food.  I remember playing Holi in disorganised driveways, with buckets and plastic chairs strewn down them. Some years we played in the gardens of generous people. The grass would stain and for days after, the soil would be iodine-tinted. Perhaps that’s what struck me as strangest of all. That today, the morning after, was so pale. I looked around and saw no signs of festivity still visible. No stained shirts – perhaps we all own too many now. No colour left on our faces, behind an ear, on an elbow or in a strand of hair. Life had already moved on this morning, and the pace was ‘business as usual’. Hangovers had been quickly dunked in morning coffees, and every phone call I’ve gotten today said, “What are you doing tonight?” and not, “What did you do yesterday?”

What did I do yesterday? I saw a few friends. I played Holi with the people who live and work on my farm – gentle puffs of colourful dust patted onto each other’s faces through big smiles. And then I made the big choice between Rang, Holi Cow, and Dog Day Afternoon. Two animals to choose from! I chose the more Indian of the two – the quintessential cow. It was lovely. For once the organisation was stellar, with security at every corner and ziplock bags being handed out with abandon. The weather was perfect, the bands brilliant. Bombay Bassment, Half Step Down and Menwhopause played their hearts out on stage, and though the members of Soul Mate seemed tired, I hear they’d played a more than incredible gig the night before. I had a wonderful time. Alcohol flowed, people were polite, and bathrooms were plenty, while bunting and balloons fluttered in the wind.

And yet, I left feeling as though something was amiss. It wasn’t the festival, and it wasn’t the desire to have gone for a different one. (Friends called Rang and Dog Day “shit” and “a shit fest”, respectively.) It was the desire to have a Holi like the ones I’d grown up with. Perhaps it’s the age we’re at, but a ‘family Holi’ seems to happen less and less each year. I wanted the driveway with murderous streaks of magenta running down it. I wanted the stained grass, the backyards and buckets of water. Where was the chaat? The gujias and biryani? Where were the white kurtas soaked in tesu phool paani? Or the one music system blasting random hits from somewhere in the house. The lazy afternoon brunch as everyone gets tired, sits in the sun and dries off, giggling over bhang tales. Where was the intimacy? I realized forlornly last night that we no longer want to invite Holi into the house. With our Canon 5Ds (everyone at the fest seemed to have one, wrapped in plastic) and super sound systems, our ‘international-level’ festivals, and big DJs, Holi too has become hi-fi. And though I love not having to clean up, and was wholly impressed by the number and quality of festivals on offer, I wish yesterday had been a little more about having to choose between pakka rang or natural colours…ducking buckets of cold water or being dragged through the mud, rather than Rang or Holi Cow. In our attempts to be and successes at being the coolest people on the planet, somewhere I felt we’ve taken what’s really cool about Holi away. That it’s a festival of disarray, abandon and spontaneity. Next year, I’m thinking very seriously about being generous with my garden, and going back-to-basics on my driveway. If I’m brave enough to, you’re cordially invited. 

While you're at it, take a look at this fantastic collection of Holi images:


  1. This is why we are friends. Yesterday I stood and contemplated shooting the dj of the adjacent building. As akon drummed through the glass. I watched everyone and remembered- how we always wore white on holi, to see just how much rang we had managed to catch and start early in the morning, so we could wash up and be done in time for family lunch. How my mother would always make sure we oiled our hair with sarson ka tel.
    The holi I was watching was just about dj's and item numbers the guy with the biggest biceps and the girl the mimicking katrina in chikni chameli. I used to like holi, with those silly pichkaris that always broke halfway through and the water balloon throwing contests between neighbors in my colony. this dik ching vibe just sucks

  2. felt the same way, yaara. kuchh missing thaa. no one played holi excepts for bands... kuchh feel nahin aayi. i had a much better time at the holi party at my house the year before. pichkaris, gubbare, gujiya, samose, pakode, bhaang, chaat, pukka rang, kuchha rang, bhaang and rnadom assortment of holi-type bollywood songs and a dholwaala. next year, none of this cowhowwow for me.