Friday, 9 March 2012

Holy Holi!

Welcome to my 100th blog post! It seems quite fitting that it should be about an event that I've been eagerly (and a bit nervously) anticipating for a good while now: my first Holi festival.

And what a crazy, fantastic day it was. My friend Gaurav, who sings in my choir, invited me, my mum and my mum's friend Jenny to his local neighbourhood, where the community was gathered in the central park to pelt each other with water and paint and generally let loose. We were all a little bit nervous to start with, not really knowing the rules or what to expect, but we'd followed closely the advice we'd been given: wear old clothes, oil your hair (my mum really didn't enjoy slathering her head in olive oil), and come well armed. I'd been shopping the day before for water pistols, water balloons and coloured paints - lots and lots of coloured paints.

Just as well really, since after a slightly apprehensive beginning, the local kids (and some of the local adults) of Som Vihar decided that pelting the foreigners with as much water and paint as they could throw at us added immensely to the enjoyment of the day. We gave as good as we got, naturally, but I think on balance I probably have to give the victory to the locals. In return, they cooked us some chicken biryani and Gaurav's grandmother graciously allowed us into her flat for tea even in our paint-covered states.

What makes Holi (at least in Som Vihar) so special? The innocence, the exuberance, the sense of a community coming together for simple fun. The breaking down of social barriers and hierarchies for a day. The sheer pleasure of a holiday without any of the pressures of Christmas. And, of course, getting to pour buckets of coloured water over total strangers.

My mum commented that it would do kids in the UK a lot of good to have one day in the year when this kind of misbehaviour and silliness is not only tolerated, but encouraged. I think it does adults a lot of good too. I've been pretty stressed with work of late and I felt a huge chunk of that fall off me the more the paint was piled on. We don't have holidays like this back home. Ours are full of pressure - where do we have Christmas lunch, did we get the right presents, is our New Year the Best New Year Ever, can we get off the M25 before the bank holiday is over? Holi felt like the exact opposite - the release of pressure by licencing mayhem of the best kind. And I can't think of a single day in the British calendar that brings local communities together so effectively - the closest being Bonfire Night, or at least Bonfire Night as I remember it from my childhood.

On Holi, tradition has it that normally rigid social structures are broken down. The roles and relationships defined by caste, age, gender and family structure are loosened for one day. I wonder if this is what April Fools' Day or Halloween used to be like in the UK, before they morphed into something less socially vital.

Anyway, a million thanks to Gaurav and the people of Som Vihar for such a wonderful day. I don't think my mum could have found a better way to spend her first full day in India than being warmly welcomed into a community like this. And I had an absolute blast.

Me and mum, looking colourful.

Mum and Jenny

When water pistols just don't cut it any more.

Gaurav, before he got pinker.

Mum clearly loving India so far!

An average-sized water pistol.

Som Vihar locals enjoying the day.

Gaurav with a Delhi-based German family we got chatting to - the only other foreigners there.

Gaurav looking mean and intimidating (except for the primary-colour plastic gun)

Yup, Man Utd get everywhere...

Enjoying some chicken biryani put on for the occasion. Someone had very recently yellowed me.

Gaurav checking his paint is in place.

The back of my head (showing evidence of aforementioned yellowing)

The aftermath of Holi on one of the local park benches!

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