When I was growing up, Holi was one of my favourite festivals. As a child, I looked forward to playing Holi with friends. We had two full days of fun and running riot with dry colours (gulal) and then following it up the next day with pichkaris(sprayguns) and balloons filled with wet colours. Although we lived in the hills where the weather was pretty mild around that time of the year, I do recall some occasions when we had the rains ruining our fun. But mostly, it was fun, despite rain or sun. My younger brother and I would join our friends and we played Holi all through the morning until lunch time, when we HAD to get back, shower and clean up our porch after a wonderful round of unadulterated fun! Of course, we never knew of organic colours then. It was mostly the regular powder (called gulal and there were special powder colours to use for the pichkaris, which however, never did any damage to the skin or left any traces when we washed up after our play, with the sole exception of the red powder, which was rather stubborn.
I remember in the college campus where we lived, the mood of fun and mirth predominating over the weather. Most of the kids were in primary school and our parents usually went in groups from one house to another, getting everyone along, adding to the gang, until every family joined in. It was all one BIG celebration and needless to say, great fun for all the kids. Once when I was a little over six, I recall some of my mother’s friends coming and dragging her out while she was busy cooking for us. Brother was a toddler then, and Dad was away on work to a neighbouring town. Mother was not too keen on joining in with the Holi gang, but the ladies insisted. At first, they came knocking on our front door, to which I didn’t respond as I didn’t like those scary looking women entering our house. Not to be refused, the excited ladies then, barged in through the backdoor, right into the kitchen, smearing gulal all over mother. Terrified as I was, instantaneously I burst into tears. They must have been keen to put some colours on me too but I escaped into the toilet and never came out until they left – so much for protecting mother! Now, when I look back, I find it all very funny…don’t know why I’ve never been able to forget that incident though…often wondered to myself – was it because it has always reminded me of some kind of a mob attack? Could be!!!
Over the years, things changed. My interest with the festival waned with every passing year. After finishing school, I decided I had enough of it so, I stopped playing Holi altogether. Again, another incident was waiting to happen. In my very first year at the college hostel in Calcutta, seniors would ritually pour buckets of water on all the freshers for an entire week preceding Holi. We would all be in our rooms studying when they’d come tiptoeing down the stairs, call us out by our room numbers and drain an entire bucket on each of us – a ritual that continued every single evening! There was no escape. Then, one day, one of girls in the freshers group caught a cold and the matter was promptly reported to the Hostel Warden, who we lovingly referred to as T-Rex. Prompt action followed and we were relieved that things had finally stopped. However, that was not to be. News was out that worse was to come that weekend when most of the girls (who lived nearby) were going home over the short break except for a handful of us. Apparently, drain water, we were told, was awaiting us. But I took no chances. I thought it over for a minute and feigning stomach ache, requested permission from the warden to visit my local guardian who lived at the other end of the city. I had to get away for my dear life. And thus, saved myself.
During the next four years in Calcutta, I only refrained from going out anywhere during Holi. By then, we were the seniors and the hostel was our safe haven unless one wanted to venture out and get a balloon thrown at, from the street ruffians or kids playing pranks from one of the high-rises down the road.
Over the following years and every year hence, I dutifully stayed home bound refusing to partake in the delights of Holi. It was just another date on the calendar and meant nothing to me anymore. And so it remained, until the year I got married and found myself in a new city amidst new people for whom Holi was like a community festival. I was warned that something like this might be coming, and so had braced myself in all readiness. I had even decided that I would join in, BUT, if it got too much I would simply ask them to stop. A group from my hubby’s batchmates from school and college came along – I knew some in the group who were our age, and people I was comfortable with. It was actually fun enjoying ourselves as kids once again.
The following year, many from that group had moved out of the city. This time, though, it was Holi with my students (from the Institute where I taught) and now looking back, I feel we had even more fun. The entire gang had turned up at our doorstep that morning and insisted that Madam should join in too, to which Madam gladly conceded. It was a wonderful experience and that was possibly the last Holi in India that we enjoyed, before we moved abroad a few months later.
In the subsequent years, every time the festival came, it always reminded me of the years gone by. We often spoke about it at home and fondly remembered the faces from the snapshots from the two previous years that we had preserved carefully before we left the country. Time passed and memories dimmed. Holi came and went by and sadly, mostly without even our knowledge.
Two countries, two continents and a decade later, when we relocated to India, our son, then four, became curious about Holi which he saw being celebrated at play school and wondered why we did not celebrate it at home. Fair enough. We thought time had come to bring the colours back into our lives. And bring we did. With gusto. I had read about the harmful impact of the regular powder colours and decided that henceforth it only had to be the organic ones to help us regain that sense of freedom and sheer abandon as we had many years ago.
The festival floods me with childhood memories today. Arjyo loves to hear about our childhood and all those wonderful magical tales from the past. We share anecdotes and sweets and he loves to hear the stories of how Holi used to come and go when we were kids and how we’d get mischievous filling our pichkaris and throwing them on each other, revelling in the delight that only this festival can bring to a child or grown up alike!
Looking back I feel things always change for the better. It is a wonderful festival to bring back the child within us and reclaim a few moments of priceless memories. But, more than that, it is fun to turn into a child every now and then and sometimes celebrate Holi twice over as we did this time, just because once the colours run out, our chance to become a child again gets over too. And, so it is, now, that year after year, I wait for Holi as I did many moons ago. Until, of course, my ten year old decides one fine day, that he has had enough! Until then, we can all revel in the fun and enjoy the festival of colours 🙂