Last week it was the Holi festival. People throw colourful powder and drench each other with water. I took a cycle ride through the Mehrauli area near the Qutab Minar monument just as the festivities were peaking in the morning. Most people were stained from head to toe in a shade of purple. This was from from having been pelted with every colour mixed together. It was like God’s hand had slipped and knocked the paint palette over.
The narrow and pot-holed streets were flowing with purple and green water. I cycled tentatively along, but at a speed which meant it was difficult to pelt me with colours. Secretly I wanted to be pelted but I also only have one pair of trousers. Groups of mischievous kids looked like colourful aliens descended from other worlds.
They grasped luminous green water cannons and took pot-shots at me. At one point the scenario was reminiscent of the film Patriot Games with Harrison Ford when the car convey is in the narrow alleyway and gets ambushed from above. A red water balloon launched from the rooftop hit my back wheel. I smiled and enjoyed this surreal experience with many exclamations of ‘Happy Holi’.
Thank God for India is all I can say… This festival should be worldwide. Imagine politicians playing Holi with each other. Not so easy to stay straight faced then. Wars that use coloured powder instead of bullets? Then I saw a news alert on my phone that reads ‘American seals historical $1.2 bn record weapons sale to India… Oh dear, will they ever learn and change? Motorcyclists speed past me and friends walk arm in arm looking happy to be free for the day.
Holi is the perfect expression of the Indian spirit. It is an opportunity to be silly with friends and go wild for a day. The next day everything is back to normal and the only evidence it ever happened are the stains on the road and people’s finger nails.
I cycle over to the parent’s of my host Priya’s house and after I arrive I’m promptly inaugurated fully into the proceedings, thus sporting a big yellow beard and comical glowing red cheeks. Priya’s parents, respectable and accomplished in society’s eyes (civil servant, lawyer) as they are, look like they’ve just been involved in an explosion in a paint factory. My mind struggles to adapt to the muddling of the general colour palette of everyday life.
Perhaps it is an experience akin to taking psychedelics. Although India is known as the most colourful country in the world, the Holi festival well and truly stamps it’s claim to this title. I can only praise India’s ability to, without the use of mind-altering substances, change the way one looks at the world. It feels like a rabbit hole that when travelling by bicycle, there is no limit to the depth of. One entire lifetime could easily be consumed pin-balling between experiences amidst the reams of people in this planet of India within planet Earth. India is like an experiment in the human race amongst the rest of humanity.
We followed up the colouring process with a traditional Holi feast tasting delicious savoury cakes in a sweet and tangy sauce. Accompanying this was vegetable sabzi and special puri bread. My lasting feelings are of wanting to be a part of it all again, I hope so.