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