Here are the Holi truths

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Here are the Holi truths

Every year, I plan (and hope) that I will be the chunar-waali during Holi. I dream of a white salwar kameez, a long, jasmine-adorned plait and a delicate dupatta tucked round my slender waist. But, year after year, my diet plans fail. And, I have no option but to be Sanjeev Kumar. Or the dholak he plays.

Nevertheless, I look forward to Holi every year. As a young girl, I remember playing Holi on the streets of Lucknow with mad revelry. There were no rules. We could break flower pots, smear colour on pet dogs, and help ourselves with the gujiyas before the owner of the house realised that behind those smears it was us, and the policemen he had called to get rid of us.

Things have become more organised and streamlined now. Particularly for those who stay in apartment complexes. A month before Holi, things hot up — both climate-wise and otherwise. The Apartment Owners’ Party Committee is swamped with proposals on how Holi should be celebrated.

‘Let’s fill the swimming pool with colour’ ‘Who will get the booze?’ ‘Let’s get some low-calorie, sugar-free thandai.’ ‘Let’s not play Holi this year as a mark of respect to the reckless harpooning of whales in the Arctic.’ So, the committee has several agonisingly long meetings to, basically, tear all these suggestions to shreds.

Finally, they prepare a long charter of do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts) and circulate it to the residents. People are told that they can play with colours only in the allotted area, which is a six-by-eight feet patch of concrete behind the sewage water treatment plant. The residents are advised to play only with dry, organic colour and not entertain loud music. People laugh reading this circular and then ask each other: “Who will get the booze?”So, as you see, the meaning and connotations have changed over the decades.

Holi or Phagwah, historically, is the most colourful festival celebrated by followers of the Vedic religion. It is celebrated as the harvest festival as well as the welcome festival for spring in India. Phagwah is derived from the name of the Hindu month Phalgun, because it is on the full moon in the month of Phalgun that Holi is celebrated.

Holi comes from the word ‘hola’, meaning to offer oblation or prayer to the Almighty as Thanksgiving for good harvest. It is celebrated yearly to remind people that those who love God shall be saved, and they who torture the devotee of God shall be reduced to ashes a la the mythical character Holika.

During the early days, the gulal colours of Holi were made at home using flowers of the tree known as the ‘Flame of the Forest’. The flowers, once plucked, were dried in the sun and then ground to a fine dust. This, once mixed in water, gave way to the most brilliant hue of saffron-red. This and the colour powdered talc called aabir were the mainstay at Holi celebrations, long before the chemical colours of today.

Holi has a deep psychological significance as well. It gave society, which was defined by straitjacketed roles, responsibilities, and mores, a channel for venting.

Catharsis, or as Aristotle called it, ‘emotional climax via drama’, was supposed to flush people with renewed energy to make a fresh start. As the drama unfolds, our emotions rise, and as we release them, we move to a state of tranquillity, and subsequently, an uplifted state.

After the harsh winters, it would be time for people to summon a renewed resilience to go back to sowing fresh crop and preparing to cope with a new year. What better than just letting go, letting one’s hair down and revelling with complete abandon for a day to get into the groove?

In fact, some parts of the country have added to ways of achieving this catharsis. A beautiful example is the Lathmar Holi, where women beat men with wooden sticks in Barsana, some 130 km from New Delhi. The women of Barsana, the legendary hometown of Radha, consort of Lord Krishna, attack the men from Nandgaon, the hometown of Lord Krishna, with wooden sticks in response to their efforts to throw colour on them. It’s a replay of how Radha would ward off   Krishna.

Now, back to the new version of Holi, the imperatives have changed. We no longer need a day for catharsis so that we can go back with new-found vigour to the paddy fields. But, interestingly, the timing coincides with the Annual Performance Appraisal cycles. After a year of hard work, employees worry about that all-important meeting in which they will be smeared will bell-curves, normalisation, business-unit budgets and variable pay. 

I have a suggestion: How about playing Lathmar Holi at offices, with all employees playing Radha, and beating their bosses with sticks? That would be a great catharsis. What say? 

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