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Monday, March 12, 2012

Holi Smokes!

Why exactly don’t Americans play holi? It involves throwing colors at everyone you see (including your boss), mud wrestling, bonfires, and people of all ages acting like children. I say we bring this tradition to the homefront.

I guess I was catching up for lost time, because I got to play holi twice.

At exactly four pm on Wednesday afternoon, my coworkers and I all converged outside our office, holding little plastic bags of powdered color. We stared at each other, waiting to see who would make the first move. I honestly don’t know who it was, but all at once someone was smudging green on my face and another was throwing pink in my hair. It didn’t take long before I was dusting people with orange and smacking color on people’s backs. Puffs of blue, yellow, and red rose above us like thought bubbles as we laughed and splattered each other with colors. Two of my coworkers picked up a third and carried him halfway across the campus, dumping him into the water vat in the dyeing unit. The head of the dyeing unit turned on the hose and started spraying everyone with water. The result was that we all ended the day nearly as clean as we started, and we all went home happy and a little damp.

That night I came home to find the women from my apartment sitting in a circle in the street by my building, backs turned inward towards a pile of burning coal, coconuts, popcorn, and newspaper. I sat down with them, and they explained that they had earlier done a puja (a ritual which many hindus do twice a day as well as on special occasions) and were now curing their back pain in the holy fire. We chatted awhile and sat silently longer.

Early Thursday morning, I put on a t-shirt and sweatpants and left my house. I have not gone out in public without a kurta and dupatta once since coming to Bhuj, but today I was not willing to risk any of my clothes being destroyed. As I walked to Matt’s house I saw a group of men playing brass instruments and throwing colors, as well as some children who looked like crayon boxes. But in general the streets were calm.

I was greeted at Matt’s by a water balloon hitting my shoulder, and found Matt, Ariella, and Luisa (the other foreigners working at NGOs in Bhuj) crouched behind a wall waiting to strike. I joined them as we watched for our other “teammates” to arrive, Priyanka and Siddarth (both Matt’s coworkers). Unfortunately, they found us first.

It turns out holi day one was NOTHING. At work we had used powdered colors and water. Period.

Priyanka and Siddarth were attacking us with liquid colors that dripped down our faces and into our eyes, eggs cracked on our heads and squirt guns of water. Sid squeezed red color into my hair in a long stream, and I retaliated with my sad bag of powdered color. Then we piled into a rickshaw, colors running down our necks, and drove to our boss’s house.

If I thought day one of holi was proof that there is no divide between the personal and professional (a much bigger topic which I will discuss later), day two taught me I was VERY wrong. We showed up at the home of the Power Couple (I will call them Mr. and Ms. PC), who are the heads of Matt and Ariella’s organizations, respectively. Priyanka walked up to their gate trick-or-treat style, and tried to get in. Mr. PC hesitated, but somehow she convinced him to let us enter. At first we were just putting powdered colors in their hair and they were doing the same to us. Then it devolved into everyone throwing dirt and mud and leaves at each other and wrestling in a pool of muddy water on the ground, all seven of us plotting ways to lure the neighbors (also Matt’s coworkers) over so we could attack them with color. Ms. PC went to the neighbor’s house to draw them out and found they were waiting for us to come to them. In the end we all met in the street West Side Story style, throwing colors and smudging faces amid a chorus of “happy holi!” and “nice to meet you!” (that was me).

The whole experience was rather like a team-building activity you do at summer camp. But better, because afterwards everyone looks ridiculous and you cannot possibly be self-conscious when you know you look like Rainbow Brite. We ended up staying at Mr. and Ms.PC’s house for chai and lunch before heading to our homes to try washing off the colors.

Seven baths and three days later, I still have splotches of pink on my skin and my hair looks like Gwen Stefani in her No Doubt years. So, all around, successful.

So, who wants to play holi with me this time next year in the US?

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