Sunday, March 23, 2008

Son of Holi

The after-effects of Holi are clear in Powai today, pavements spattered with purple and green paint. We even see a street dog, anointed in Holi magenta, though when he’ll be washed clean, is anyone’s guess. As they daub our faces, the Indian revellers assure us that it all comes out in the wash, so we’re happy to be streaked pink and orange. Then an American (with an Indian wife and two ravishing little sons) whispers to us, “If you don’t wash it off soon, it’ll stain. Use baby oil.”
Obviously the staining properties of Holi colours are maximised on a pasty canvas. It’ll need more than a little water to clear us of this deed, despite Lady Macbeth’s optimism. Even after scouring, Roland’s still a redneck, and I have to bin my underwear. They don’t tell you this, in the guide-books.
From Land’s End to John O’Groats, there’s not a schoolboy who wouldn’t love Dhundi. She’s an ogress, and not conspicuously lovable, at first sight, but in Hindu religious mythology, she’s a bit of a star. Although very powerful, she’s cursed by Vishnu, to be susceptible to the taunts and pranks of village boys. A bunch of them band together, and vanquish her with their abuse. At Holi, therefore, boys are allowed to shout rude words, without anyone taking offence. Can you just imagine....
The Festival of Fun and Frolic also costs us two pairs of shoes. We go down to the Loft in the Galleria. All the assistants have bright pink palms, and would patently rather be still at the Holi party they had to leave to come into work. Roland buys some man-sandals, which he insists on wearing home, so the shocked shop-boy has to bundle up a pair of sodden Holi shoes. All the ladies’ shoes are only fit for Barbie, in my opinion. Even venerable grandmas, here, wear spangled flip-flops, Start-Rite doesn’t come into it. I have to be careful, with my tricky ankles and wonky insteps: no Indian lady would poke a slender brown toe near the shoes I choose. Mr Roland’s man-sandals are so expensive, he gets a thousand-and-one-rupee credit-note, so my unlovely shoes are free, which is the best I can say about them.
People drenched in colour lose their identity: at Holi, caste doesn’t matter. In practice, this liberalism has constraints. I see young boys tentatively approach a doughty dame, paint in hand, to douse her in Holi colours. She clearly says, “No!” and the boys wither away, to splat their mates instead, to much better effect.
The music and dancing at Holi are supposed to rejuvenate the system. The colour from the paint is said to penetrate the body and improve health and beauty. Dancing round the Holika fire kills bacteria, and cleanses the whole body. To ensure the flow of positive energy, people rid their house of clutter. If only it were so simple....

A show of hands at the Culture Shop. Bura na mano, holi hai!