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Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

Our crew with our jeep

“We need to be taking this smaller car because it has more swang swang,” Dharmin said after rolling up in an open-air jeep instead of an enclosed van.

I didn’t really know what swang swang was (swing swing?) but I was certainly excited about the possibility of celebrating from the back of a jeep. We’d met Dharmin the day before when his taxi picked us up at the airport. When we told him we wanted to find a place to celebrate Holi with the locals the next day, he came prepared.

Happy and Holi-fied

Holi is a holiday that reminds me a bit of Halloween in that it has its roots in many religious and spiritual elements, but it has morphed into a day primarily to have fun and be a bit silly. It is alternately described as an agricultural festival to celebrate the arrival of spring and a commemoration of various events in Hindu mythology. Mostly though, it’s a day to celebrate life by throwing color on one other.

It sounds a bit crazy but it truly is primarily an excuse for people of all ages, castes and creeds to throw neon-bright powder or water onto their brethrens. And we were determined to celebrate even though we were outside the familiar confines of Bombay. We’d played a little bit early with some children in Varanasi. Now after spending a day in Khajuraho looking at temples we were ready to truly play Holi.

After our first round of Holi in Varanasi

Dharmin assured us he would bring us along while the local people played – after all, in a town of only 11,000 people he was a guide who knew any and everyone and could find us the right spot. We drove through small stone villages, divided up by caste, with water pumps determining the town center and houses painted bright colors. It was a distinct change from our usual lives in Mumbai and certainly from the crowded dirty streets of Varanasi. We started mostly by squirting colorful water from our jeep at people and exclaiming ‘Holi hey!’ as they smiled and waved back, but then some children finally caught up to us.

The Holi madness

In a flurry of water and color we exchanged multihued fire, patting powder on children’s faces as they squirted us with makeshift water guns fashioned from plastic bottles with holes cut into the tops. More children ran towards the action. They tried to involve puppies and baby goats as water buffalo slowly sauntered past the revelry. They’d trick us by asking for a little bit of our color and then laugh as they smashed it back onto our clothes and faces. I certainly got enough in my eyes and mouth to need a few moments of wiping.

Children coloring me as a water buffalo walks by

But the joy was palpable. The children’s laughter rang out at the hilarity of being allowed to not only throw something onto an adult, but being able to joke and play with some of their town’s ubiquitous gora tourists. You couldn’t help but laugh and laugh at the absurdity of seeing everyone colored head to toe with abandon.

A splash of color

As we drove back to our hotel, jeep swang swanging around the corners and with every crack and crevice now dyed a variety of colorful tints, we all felt exhilarated.We thanked Dharmin and his various friends who had joined us for allowing us to be a part of their Holi. Even after showering off, with bits of dye still clinging to our inner ears and elbows, it was hard not to giggle at the memory of our faces covered with colors of every shade.

Our Holi crew at the end of the day

There’s no holiday greater than those that extract pure delight from us all. Happy Holi. I hope to play again soon.

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I’m probably a bad patriot for deliberately wanting to leave my new city because my President was coming for a visit. But amidst road closures, traffic and increased security – along with a 2 day vacation for Daniel because of Diwali – we decided to high-tail it out of Mumbai for a relaxing weekend in Goa.

I had heard a lot of different things about Goa, all seemingly contradictory: Some derided it as a crowded over-hyped place for hippies and backpackers; others gleefully declared it Mumbai’s Hamptons. I was pleasantly surprised to find that if you stayed in the right places, Goa could be neither. Instead for me it was a relaxing blend of tropical paradise and historical oddity.

One of the Siolim House rooms

On the advice of numerous friends we stayed at Siolim House – a 17th century Portuguese mansion that had been restored as a labor of love by an Indian private equity manager. Siolim House is off the beaten track – it’s situated on a small lane in a tiny village that’s a ways away from the beach, but it means no other tourists are around. You sort of feel like you’re staying at a friend’s very nice country house (shouldn’t we all have friends like that?).

I’m ususally a sucker for historical houses anyway, but this one really was something to see. Our room made me feel like we could really get a sense of what it must have been like to live in colonial India – except we still were able to have running water and the use of a fan.

Siolim House lounge

We spent the next few days driving between the various beaches and the sights of Goa. It’s a funny place to tourist-watch – I’ve never seen so many people trying to embody the Goa fantasy life. White people with dreadlocks and kurtas made their way around on scooters along treacherous windy paths while getting honked at for going too slowly. European tourists happily paid 50 rupees for a fresh coconut without negotiating and apparently without considering that the coconuts grew on trees right in front of them and therefore shouldn’t be that expensive. A lot of the people we spoke with were spending up to two weeks in Goa – deciding that the rest of India would have to wait, since they were only in the mood for their tropical plans. I kept wondering what the local people must think of this specific type of tourist that wants to live the ‘chill’ life in India. Then again, what must they have thought of us? I think sometimes we’re naive to assume that we embarrass ourselves less just because we happen to have lived in Mumbai for a few months.

But Goa does live up to its hype. We went to one of the quieter beaches, in Mandrem, and it really was a new view of India I hadn’t been privy to in all my time on Mumbai’s sullied and crowded beaches. Hills gave way to white sandy beaches and palm trees. Locals made use of the tourists by selling us fresh-caught fish and prawns. It was hard to think of a better place to spend a day.

Inside of Bom Jesus church

As a history buff I also enjoyed Old Goa – which apparently a lot of beach travelers give a miss. It was striking to see 17th century grand churches in India. I watched an Indian Christian wedding- white dress and all – and I was struck by how odd it seemed in a country that seemed to promote every color but white in their average wedding. I certainly felt like I was in some remote part of forgotten Europe. The whole setting reminded me of some of the churches I’d gone to in Amalfi – a bit forgotten with the paint peeling off, but still glorious in their size and decorations.

I was also amused to see the ‘remains’ of St Francis Xavier. It was a bit of an inside joke for me – I was born in a hospital called St Francis Xavier hospital, and oddly enough I am the only person in my family who was born there. So I thought it was sort of fitting that I got to witness his bizarre mummified self (I would say I got to see him in the flesh, but that might be too terrible a pun).

At any rate, when it was time to board our plane Sunday night, I couldn’t help but wish I was able to spend more time in the slow-moving Indian state that seemed to belong to many cultures at once. And for a moment, the wish was granted: our flight out was delayed – a result of President Obama’s closure of the Mumbai airport for a full forty-five minutes. I guess we couldn’t avoid America even in Goa. But it certainly had been nice to try for a little while.

(I also found some great signs in Goa, so I’ve added a few to the slide show on the signs tab)

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If you’re ever hoping to sound stupid in front of an Indian person, try explaining Halloween.

It’s easy to forget that some of the most ingrained elements of American or Western life have no corollary here.  Most basics like food and clothing can be compared to Indian food or clothing. But some concepts just don’t translate.

On this occasion, it all started with my pirate peeler.

My pirate peeler with its 'pumpkin' peels

My pirate peeler is one of  my favorite possessions – it’s a basic peeler painted to look like a pirate. Nisha used it to peel pumpkin (or what she called pumpkin – it looked to me like a long green squash, but who am I to argue) and thought it was very funny.

“What is this supposed to be?” she asked.
“It’s a pirate!” I replied, not realizing how dumb I probably sounded.
“What?”
“You know? Pirates? Did you ever see Pirates of the Caribbean?” I lamely exclaimed, hoping that those movies had perhaps made their way here.

“Yeah, I know,” she nodded.

“Well, at University my roommates and I liked pirates and we dressed up like pirates for Halloween and so for Christmas one year one of them got me the pirate peeler.”

Nisha stared at me like I was speaking gibberish. And to her, I was. Here I was telling her that I dressed like a pirate while supposedly studying at University.

“I assume there’s no Halloween here?” I said.  Nisha looked at me blankly. Then I started digging the hole:

“Well, it’s this holiday. I think it originally came from a holiday called All Hallows Eve where spirits and ghosts could come out. Then somehow… it became a holiday where children dress up in costumes and go door to door asking for candy.”

“Why candy?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it religious?”
“No.”
“What kind of costumes?”

I was starting to feel like the whole thing sounded ridiculous to someone who had never seen it. And it is a little ridiculous. But it’s an accepted part of our lives so I’ve never questioned it.

Culture is a funny thing – to most of the world, unique traditions probably can look incredibly stupid.  Many evolve over time to the point where they’re impossible to rationally explain. Why DO we give candy and dress up on Halloween? Why is the birth of Jesus celebrated most often with presents and Santa?  Why do most Americans (of Irish-descent or not) take St Patricks day as an excuse to wear green and drink?

I’m sure there are reasons – but the average person couldn’t explain why. We just go along with it because its something we’ve always done and its fun.

But, right as I was feeling like I could never explain Halloween, I was reminded that ridiculous cultural traditions may each be unique- but everyone has them.

“My favorite festival in Mumbai is Ganesh Chaturthi,” Nisha said. “All the Hindus take statues of Ganesh and bring them into the sea. That probably is as crazy as Halloween.”

And just like that, I didn’t need to explain myself.

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