Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Colour of Freedom

It’s been over five years since I last celebrated Holi the way it is supposed to be celebrated: I don’t mean the sophisticated socialite celebration splashed across Bombay Times (yes, I still read Bombay Times; judge me), but the raw, uncouth and extreme form of festivity, complete with the most hideously obstinate colours, balloons and mud. You heard me right. MUD.

As a kid, Holi was always one festival which gave me the license to go totally berserk: from being a closet painter who sometimes experimented with colours on a piece of paper, I would assume my most notoriously uncivilized and crude avatar during Dolutsav (as we call Holi in Bengali). For two days I would refuse to lay a finger on my books (and Holi usually fell in the middle of annual exams) and I would devote myself religiously to preparing for the grand festival: pestering my mom to buy me the most obnoxious colours, then pestering (emotionally blackmailing) my dad to buy me the most obnoxious colours when my mom refused to do so and pestering our maid to help me with the balloons, “pestering” being the key word. On the day itself, I would wake up all excited, put on my most tattered outfit and swathe myself with a generous dose of olive oil, ready to conquer the field “where there was no mercy”. Usually, a gentle and soft spoken child, I could be very aggressive during Holi, but my friends were no better. No matter how crude I was, they would somehow manage to be cruder. Long story short, by the end of the day, we were all ready to participate in a game of “Who is the Mamata Banerjee of them all?”

Then came college: my first experience away from home, in a new city and in a hostel full of airheaded giggly teenaged girls, most of them as stupid as I was. As hard as it is to believe, my species is abundant in nature, especially in South Bombay. And somehow the lack of parental supervision made us even more airheaded, even more giggly and even more stupid. This was also the phase when we were running high on hormones and Bollywood. Each of us secretly dreamed of being Rekha serenaded by Amitabh Bachchan in the song Rang Barse from the movie Silsila. So what was limited to close friends within the boundaries of the garden now became a no-holds-barred display of hooliganism on Marine Drive with people I barely knew. But somehow, it was a little more fun, a little more liberating and a little more refreshing.

Next was B school: a time when I believed that I had my feet firmly grounded, I knew exactly what I wanted from life (i.e. a career in Consulting/Investment Banking, like most MBAs) and I was completely focused on the “important” things namely placements, CGPA and backstabbing fellow students, or as many would call it, “getting ready for corporate world”. I also had this misplaced air of superior intellectualism, a trait that runs in most Bengalis in close company with people from other states (like the North). For us, “North” is a state, much like the south of Maharashtra is “Madras” to most people from the “North”. It was with this air that I grandly refused to celebrate Holi, preferring to “read Karl Marx” in my room. Looking back, I realize that was probably the biggest mistake of my life. Ever. As soon as word spread, my room was attacked by an avalanche of people who couldn’t be distinguished from one another, as they simply picked me up, carried me downstairs, rolled me in mud till I had dirt in my eyes and then threw me into a tub of coloured water of the worst variety. Suddenly all the horror stories I had heard about Holi seemed to pale in the light of my experience and it took me a couple of days to recover from the shock or recognize myself in the mirror. But of course, if there was ever a Holi celebration worth remembering, this had to be it.

Over the last five years, the festivities have become considerably toned down and I no longer play with wet colours or balloons, but when I look back, I am overcome with a feeling of completeness as I tell myself, “If there is ONE thing that I have gone the whole hog for, Holi would be it.”

Mundane reality may be considerably more colourful than fiction, but once in a while, you are tempted to give yourself a little more latitude and pretend that artificial colours would make you a slightly more colourful personality, a la, Deepika Padukone, who miraculously turned into a swan from an ugly duckling in the song Balam Pichkari in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani.

Just once in a while, you want to let go of your inhibitions and play Holi the way it is supposed to be played: dirty, disgusting and downright obnoxious…

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