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A holi mess

festival_146One of my most vivid Holi related memories are from when I was fifteen. In Bombay, Holi is not just ‘celebrated’ on the day itself, but the prelude to it is often as important to the revellers. This particular memory is about the day I was on my way back from Math tuitions. I was wearing a white dress with red piping and a red belt. I was walking through a residential colony toward the main road where my parents were waiting to pick me up.

I was almost at the car when *thwack*, a water balloon hit me (or fell close to me, I can’t remember). I recall being startled, and then very angry at being targeted like this. Hiding somewhere in the warren of balconies were some boys for sure, enjoying their glee at finding an unsuspecting customer for their afternoon entertainment.

I remember being angry enough to want to go and thrash those punks. Sense (and my parents) convinced me to get into the car and leave the scene. Wise decision that, or I’d probably have continued to be pelted with missiles from the cowards.

Things didn’t really improve as I got older. The days before Holi means being wary of being on the street, not sitting next to windows on buses and trains, avoiding areas populated by slums. Recent years have been full of stories of women losing their eyesight or enduring grievous injuries in the frivolity of a water balloon (or plastic bag) lined with stones or filthy water and hurled with great force at a speeding train. Even if no one was injured, the impact of the bag hitting the window meant that a lot of people were left splattered with some rather unpleasant water.

On the day itself, most women play it safe and stay at home or participate in the celebrations with family and friends. Outside, groups of boys roam the streets looking for prey – people who have foolishly ventured on the streets.

In Goa, on Holi morning, things look relatively peaceful. Streaks of vivid colour dot the road. Rickshaw drivers playfully smear each other with gulal, yellow and green thrown in for good measure. They are careful not to colour their vehicles, or any of the cars parked nearby. Other passers-by are left unmolested, a respectful acknowledgement of one’s desire (or lack of it) to ‘play’ .

Later in the morning though, things change. Gangs of young boys drive around town in open jeeps or vans. They are accompanied by music, drums beating in cadence to their screams. Are these tourists? Or perhaps some of the newer ‘migrants’ to the state? This is a new phenomenon for people who have been here longer – another symbol of the unnecessary influences imported by people moving in to visit or stay. 

This is the ugly face of what could really be a fun festival.  In Goa, bus windows are not yet targets for fun stone-throwing. But on Azad Maidan, in the guise of celebrating, reports come in of foreigners being fondled. TOI reports that the women had a “deer in the headlights look”, but they kept quiet thinking that it was “part of tradition”.

If people do their homework (or use common sense), they’d realise that being fondled by strangers is not part of any tradition here (if such a culture exists, please send our men there – they’d be in heaven). Nor is stone-throwing part of the festivities. Yet it happens every year.

As I remember Holi-days gone by and am glad to have escaped Bombay this March, I wonder what  other women have experienced. Do you look forward to this colourful welcoming of spring or do you dread the onset of potential harassment every step of the way in the name of fun?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment or email me, if you like.


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