Oh Delhi your dust and your pollution and your noise. Your crazy drivers, (though I admit some are highly skilled!) your brashness, and simple its ‘Delhi’ attitude. For all of this, you are saved in my eyes on one particular day. The day I am talking about is a bit different from most. It is a day where the city becomes sleepy and quiet but there is so much laughter. Children are laughing in delight. The adults are laughing too and some are so very submerged in the spirit of the day – an expression I have great affection for. If you’re rich or poor it doesn’t matter you are coloured all the same. I refer, of course to Holi – a day of spectacular colour, celebrated annually in India in March. On this day, to me at least, Delhi is at its most beautiful. Everywhere you go, there is so much vibrancy. Brown skin smeared with colour. So much colour –from blood red to deep gorgeous purples, and vibrant greens and yellows. The epitome of the colour palette that India loves.
The fields are in full bloom, harsh winters have gone and it is time for spring – a respite period before harsh and long summers settle in. So people rejoice in the spirit of Holi. It is a day where the atmosphere is full of intoxicating colour. You play with colour powders with family, friends and the like with of course good food, drink and general merriment. A day where it is acceptable for a complete stranger to come up to and literally smear your face with colour and smile and walk away and you must wear it with pride because that is part of Holi etiquette.
I find myself thinking how cool this actually is. Everyone plays like children – colour is literally everywhere and it’s the kind of colour that makes your heart so happy. Holi is also hazy, as it is common practice to ‘submerge oneself in the true spirit of Holi’ (as some say), and drink the intoxicant Bhang to achieve spiritual ecstasy (spiritual or otherwise). Since ancient times Bhang has been used as an intoxicant in the Indian sub-continent. Prepared from the leaves and buds of the cannabis plant it is consumed as a beverage in India on Holi. I hope I have painted the picture for you.
But I wanted to know more as we never really celebrated this in the UK and Holi tended to be this far removed-from-reality event that occurred in Bollywood movies. Where did this idea of playing with colours come from? What was the significance? Whilst there are numerous legends and religious associations with this celebration – one of my favorite explanations of the cultural significance is that ‘the various legends associated to Holi reassure the people of the power of the truth as the moral of all these legends is the ultimate victory of good over evil’. These legends supposedly help people to conduct themselves in a morally respectable way and reaffirms the need to be truthful as dharma. In particular this following line caught my eye, ‘ This (Holi) is extremely important in the modern day society when so many people resort of evil practices for small gains and torture one who is honest. Holi helps the people to believe in the virtue of being truthful and honest and also to fight away the evil’.
This got me thinking. The evils that people do. What motivates them? Do such celebrations really get people thinking about their morals and duty? If so, maybe I need to look more closely. I write from Delhi, against the backdrop of the recent release of ‘India’s daughter’, a film about the horrific rape and murder of a student in a Delhi bus in 2012. I have little sense of what people actually make of the film – as no one seems to really be talking about it apart from what little the media has contributed. The Government, backed up by the Delhi police, seem to have reacted as predictably as they were always going to – by making statements on “women’s rights” and how the BBC, which it has no jurisdiction over, should refrain from showing this film which ultimately is an embarrassment to India. Yes of course it is. But, I wonder if what really scares the Government, is this. That in spite their half baked efforts to show the world that women’s safety is on their radar – a harsher underlying reality stubbornly persists. That actually there are still far too many men in this country who truly believe that a women has no rights. Not even over her own body.
I cannot help but feel, in spite of the vibrant colours of today’s Holi, the presence nearby of a colourless horrible truth. That beyond the celebrations, lies a far more dangerous India. It cannot hide forever.