By Jagruti Verma Mar. 17, 2022
Whether it is the workplace or the neighbourhood, conning Holi and its rituals has become regular practice for me. So much so I have plans, both mental and tangible, to make sure I survive the week.
The festival of colours is not for everyone. Can we just accept it already? The morning of Holi is usually a complex phenomenon at my place. While every year I look forward to the platters of food, bought and made for the occasion, I dread whenever the bell rings that day. Residents in neighbourhoods like mine love to celebrate things together, home-deliver them so to speak. They love to pluck people from their rooms and plant them amidst other people they don’t even know. To them it’s a symbol of joy, to me it is the kind of trauma I have always struggled to explain.
It’s not that I don’t like the idea of playing with colours; it’s just the discomfort of thoughts trained on lived experiences. It is what makes my defence mechanisms automatically kick in on the day. My usual go-to is to let others entertain the bells while I sleep, to let everyone believe that I burned the midnight oil just enough to be allowed my day in peace. But it doesn’t always work. The next alternative has always been to fake a sickness, but given the pandemic, it is probably trickier to even say ‘I might be coming down with something’. Maybe I can wear a PPE kit for the entire day, as both a message and a protective shield?
It’s not that I don’t like the idea of playing with colours; it’s just the discomfort of thoughts trained on lived experiences.
Being around people is not always a piece of cake. At least not for everyone. But when that notion of gathering comes burdened with a mandated display of joy and happiness, you kind of already feel the pressure to perform. It’s even more difficult when the ritual demands touch, something not everyone is keen on anyway. I’m sure you must have already received an invitation or two – so have I. Or at least your Instagram feed, like mine, is full of ‘fun’ activity prospects. Too many people seem to be gearing up for big parties. If these ads and organic joy make you shudder, you are probably on the team that sends out ‘Happy Holi’ to people ahead of time so they don’t, in retrospect, make you part of their plans. How else do you not become an asshole and also skip it?
Holi is a day where people smear each other with colours, dance and drink to loud beats. While that’s beautiful for some, it’s not for all.
The thing about Holi is that it isn’t Diwali where we get gifts and vouchers from offices or Christmas and a well-deserved break. It’s a day where people smear each other with colours, dance and drink to loud beats. While that’s beautiful for some, it’s not for all.
Many years ago, my birthday fell on the day of Holi and it was too scary to go out and buy a cake. It was the pre-Swiggy era, and most shops remained shuttered on the day. Cakes are, after all, not Holi material. It was the only birthday in my life where I didn’t get to cut a cake. So now, every year, when I get a new calendar, I check the date of Holi. An irony in the world of celebrations?
This resentment makes me question the various aspects of the festival, especially the ones that took away my cake. It’s a day where people smear each other with colours and then spend hours and gallons of water trying to clean themselves and the spaces around them. It’s even traumatic for animals on the streets and yet it is supposed to symbolise something that I have perpetually struggled to grasp.
The day after Holi when the cleanups are underway, we wake up to crime statistics and stories. The tales continue to crop up for the entirety of March, each more gruesome than the one before.
It could be a preference or a trauma-induced choice but being ‘touched’ without enthusiastic consent is not funny. Especially if you’ve grown up in the gullies and mohallas of this country as a woman. Holi is a festival that, unfortunately, celebrates those not-so-blurry lines. There are scores of Bollywood songs that promote this behaviour in the name of romance. It leads to unpleasant gendered experiences, shaping people up in unfortunate ways. To people who think these are just approving artefacts, I’d say, in Anu Malik’s memorable voice “Do me a favour let’s not play Holi”.
The day after Holi when the cleanups are underway, we wake up to crime statistics and stories. The tales continue to crop up for the entirety of March, each more gruesome than the one before. Questions are raised on the ways we raise our boys and facilitate our men. And then comes monsoon, and we move on to the pothole debates and whatever inconvenience is on our mind at the time. But sometimes the scars remain, for which new plans have to be made, new tactics invented. So if you are someone who isn’t all Yay! about Holi, you can do what I do: Think about the hills of gujiyas and trays of samosas. Think about the food. And if you are someone who is on the other team, just take your plate and leave us alone.