Growing up in a small town in India, Holi was my favourite festival. Yes, Diwali meant bursting crackers; Sankranti meant walking around the block and looking at all the Rangoli patterns on front porches; Ugadi meant tasting that tangy pickle first thing in the morning – but Holi is a true boy’s dream. You get together with a gang of your friends and roam the streets in dirty clothes smearing gulaal on people’s faces.
What’s not to like?
Holi did the unthinkable: it married the rowdy and the nice. It gave license to indulge in unruly behaviour, but only for the first half of the day. After noon, once all the egg hurling and tomato throwing is done and dispensed with, you’re meant to return home, take a bath – a long one, because all the colour has to be washed off – dress in presentable clothes, eat some sweets, and act all pleasant and ‘traditional’.
And then there was the day after at school, where you regaled your friends with stories of how much fun you had. These tales were more exaggerations than truths, but everyone knew everyone else was lying a little bit, but no one cared. The deepness of the shade of pink on your hands and face was meant to be a testimony of how ‘well’ you played Holi. If anyone turned up in their usual complexion, he became a social outcast in the group.
Only after growing up a bit did I know the significant behind Holi – the bonfires, the burning alive of Holika, the meaning behind the colours etc. This was after the wildness of spirit had been tamed by age, after the festival had just become a holiday, a time to take a breather from a hectic life. No more energy to walk the streets and fling colour at passers-by and yell ‘Happy Holi!’
As an adult, I came to appreciate Indian festivals in general and Holi in particular at a deeper level. Holi stands for unity. Diversity. Victory of good over evil. But nothing compares to the sheer reckless abandon I used to experience as a child, the sheer joy with which I used to wake up on Holi, heading straight to the packets of colour bought the night before even as mom calls out from the kitchen to brush my teeth first.
This year, I find myself wishing that I could rediscover the child in me, and enjoy Holi like I once used to – with the wonder and bewilderment of a kid, not the dispassionate, knowing smiles of an adult who has seen too much of the world and is wary of it.
I wish that for you too, Dear Reader. May you find yourself as you used to be once, unfettered and free, before life began to weigh you down with its many frills. Even if it’s for one day, under all the colour and laughter and noise and celebration, I wish that you remember what it was like to be just yourself.