Holi 2017: Pour Some Colour On Me
- Illustrations: Pradeep Menon

Illustration by Satwik Gade

Editor's note: Bhaang is an edible form of cannabis and a Holi tradition. It has common usage in other Hindu festivals like Shivratri and Janmashtmi as well. This fiction piece in no way advocates the usage of Bhaang, but doesn't denounce it either. Happy Holi!

 

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9.13 AM.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The rhythm of that darned leaky tap woke me up, the inky black of my dreamless sleep breaking into ripples; but then, I instantly regretted opening my eyes. It felt like my skull was imploding and my brain was exploding at the same time. Has my body grown immune to PartySmart?

Drip. Throb. Drip. Throb. Drip. Throb.

Must get that damn tap fixed asap. At the rhythm of each drip and throb, images from the previous night streaked before my eyes. Amber-gold jägerbombs. Flaming blue Sambuca shots. Clear green absinthe. Flashing pink lights with out-of-sync karaoke. A sinewy (and rather cute) fellow clad in grey, who walked up to me just as someone finally managed to wrench the microphone from my hands.

That last image woke me up a little more. The chap had seemed interesting. Neither is he here, nor am I at his place. I wonder what happened to him? As drunk as I was the previous night, and with my current depressive mood in general, it seemed odd that I hadn’t hooked up with him.

Absinthe. Throb-throb.

It hit me. He seemed interesting at first; and then he spoke. End of story. His thick brown boots were his most interesting facet, and I don’t even remember how they looked anymore. Thank god for the cold-brewed black coffee in my fridge. And thank god for the Monday holiday. Sunday night binge-drinking is for kids, not for 27-year-olds.

Illustration by: Satwik Gade

9.47 AM

I soon had eggs sizzling on a pan while I sipped my way-too-brown cold coffee (just how I like it), golden-brown buttered toast ready on a plate. Soon enough, with food in my tummy, the throbbing began to ease and the sounds of the world began to filter into my seventh-floor apartment.

Then, my heart sank, as the caterwauling from the outside reminded me of why I’d drowned myself in alcohol the previous night. It was because of what was to follow the next morning. Excited screams. Splashing water. The Monday holiday suddenly sounded bleak. It was Holi. Almost as if on cue, my cellphone rang.

10.19 AM

I did not see the point of bathing, particularly because of just how much water I was going to see wasted that day. What worried me was surviving yet another Holi. I’ve always disliked the ‘festival of colours’ (or so they call it), never quite being able to make my peace with so many strangers around me taking the opportunity to be, well, friendly.

Ugh, people. Why do my friends have to call me for such stuff? And why can’t I say ‘no’?

But this year, Holi seemed even more troublesome. With majoritarianism sweeping across the globe, the fervour around India’s traditionally-celebrated festivals had grown particularly loud. Even as voices advising moderation in celebrations grew louder, the celebrations themselves seemed to double down on the dissenters.

“If you’re against our festivals, you’re against our country!” No, *you* fuck off. Please. #KeepingItClassy

Apparently, you mustn’t worry about who has how much water available to drink, when you can dunk a person in a barrel of coloured water instead. I’ve read (on the internet, so who knows) that my home city, Bangalore, will be evacuated in under a decade because it is fast running out of water. The Bangalore of my childhood was always green. Today, I can only picture it as brown. Welcome to dystopia.

That day, in my own subtle middle-finger to the world, I wore the loose-est, black-est, oldest set of clothes I could find, and I put them on. No Bollywood-style Holi for me, thanks. Why would anyone in the real world wear white on Holi?

Just before I left the house, I looked into the mirror once, more out of habit than the want or need to see how I looked. As far as I was concerned, I was walking into a warzone. And I looked dressed to, well, be killed.

10.59 AM

As I stepped out of the house, I saw old Mrs Taraporewala, elegant in a thin white gossamer gown, watering her little new potted plant by her door. On most days, we barely exchanged words, she and I. But I often visited her home, sat in silence in her balcony-turned-garden and admired her plants, while sipping on herbal tea and contemplating where my next story would come from.

The various shades of green in her garden, some that I hadn’t even seen elsewhere, often spoke to me, calming me. My favourite was the little Mimosa Pudica in the corner, commonly called the ‘touch-me-not’. I identify, girl.

That day, I merely muttered a ‘hello’ to the good lady, and I was on my way. As I saw myself looking on at me from the shiny, silvery walls of the elevator, my thoughts returned to old Mrs Taraporewala. It amazes me how the cacophony of the outside world matters so little to her. No matter what, she just always does her own thing. And she wears white like no one else.

11.07 AM

I was already running late for the darned Holi party my friends wanted me to join – rain dance and everything, bloody hell - but I knew that it would be a task to escape the eyes of the folks celebrating Holi in the society. I saw a crowd of at least 50 people in the community area, fervently dousing each other with liquid colour.

What I hate most about Holi is how all those colours mix and form the dirtiest, ugliest, most difficult to describe non-colour ever. Now I know why they call it a ‘riot’ of colours. Dirty. Ugly.

My new therapist had recently prescribed colour therapy to me, which had almost instantly started working like a charm. Colouring books were my new best friends; I spent hours with them every day, colouring within the lines, picking and choosing what shade would go where. But the sight of the Holi celebrations made me realize that it would be a while before I could touch another colouring book.

Avoiding any sort of eye contact, I tried to slink my way to the parking lot. Then, calamity struck.

lead image holi
- Illustrations: Satwik Gade

Beta Anushka! You can’t flee like this on Holi! Come, play with us for a bit.” Holi Shit.

Mr Zaveri, from Chrysanthemum. Yes, the various wings in my (rather large) society were named after flowers. I lived in Hibiscus. I was allergic to hibiscus. I was also allergic to Mr Zaveri. He had just added me to a hyper-enthusiastic Whatsapp group called ‘A New India’. Before I could mute it for a year, I’d already seen 20 new memes, largely gloating over BJP’s landslide election win in UP and a saffron Holi in the offing. Must ask my therapist about a polite excuse to exit Whatsapp groups.

“Come beta, put some colour on me,” Mr Zaveri merrily chortled. No.

“Sure, uncle. Why not. But I must rush immediately after that. I’m late for a Holi party with my friends.” Let me go, creepy person.

“Beta, but we’re also like your family, no?” Hell no.

“Of course, uncle. Happy Holi! Wait, let me get some rang.” Fuck.

I went around, desperately looking for someone about my own age. Anyone but Mr Zaveri’s two sons. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that Bhavish and Sachin Zaveri appeared to be in-charge of the youth brigade at the lamest Holi celebration in Mumbai. Both had thick, lustrous saffron stoles around their necks, and they were easily the loudest people in the vicinity. I could sense the arrival of the apocalypse.

I turned away and went to enjoy the company of the relatively harmless aunties around. Some were annoying, some were adorable, and at least two whispered in my ear, ‘Anu beta, don’t let anyone outrage your modesty today!’ Modesty? You should watch my videos, aunty. I burn people for a living. I’ll be fine. Also, enough with the ‘beta’ already.

11.19 AM

I’d had enough. I had exchanged dabs of colour with most of the older folk, giving a wide berth to the Zaveri boys and their coterie. They were nowhere to be seen, and the crowd had grown bigger and louder, so I felt this was the time to leave.

I snaked my way to the edge of the crowd and then skirted around it, desperate for the exit. I almost made it, before my ultra-sensitive nose picked up a familiar smell. Among other places, it often came from another corner of Mrs Taraporewala’s garden.

I turned to see Sachin Zaveri and his friends gleefully brewing bhaang in a large vessel, as the liquid glowed bright-white in the sun – a complete contrast to every other liquid in sight. Meanwhile, Bhavish Zaveri held a bottle of it in his hand, trying to coax young Priya Mahajan into trying it. As she forcefully smiled and tried to prise herself out of the group, another unidentifiable (because shit-like-colour-mix-on-face) fellow held her back, before he said that which I had been dreading to hear all along.

Bura na maano, holi hai.” What happened next will… embarrass me for the rest of my life, but what the hell.

In more ways than one, I’d truly had enough. I walked over to Bhavish and his gang, yanked the bottle of bhaang out of his hand, and gulped it down in one go. Even as they grappled with what had just happened, I grabbed a large tumbler, dipped it into their big source vessel and pounded down a few tumbler-fulls of the laced liquid.

Usually, pot calmed me down. It made me give fewer fucks than I usually did, about absolutely everything. It also usually helped me channel my thoughts. But that day, it was different.

My heart was already thundering away because of all the noise; the Holi celebrations had me on edge; and the sight of a saffron-clad fellow refusing to understand the meaning of ‘no’ pushed me over it. Bhavish, still holding a phantom bottle in his hand, soon proceeded to lose his saffron stole, as I pulled it off his neck and tied it around my waist. A lathi seemed to materialize in my hand out of nowhere, and my metamorphosis was complete.

The saffron burned bright in my eyes, and it soon became all I could see. I could see aggression, domination and privilege. I could feel rage and malice.

It’s all a haze now, most of it, but I do remember doing a one-woman lathi charge on every member of the Zaveri boys’ gang. I was channelling my marijuana trip like I’d never done before, and sure enough, the pandemonium around me soon began to dip in volume, as the crowd noticed what I was doing.

The celebrations faltered and then stopped, as the only sound that could be heard was wood on flesh, followed by dissonant howls. No one attempted to stop me, though I did hear some hurried whispers about me being ‘possessed’. From beta to mata quicker than one could say ‘angry Indian goddess’. Better therapy than any colouring book ever.

Finally, as the crowd dispersed in fear, I threw the lathi away and walked off. Not in the direction of the parking lot, but back home. I was done with people being told not to be offended because it’s Holi. I was beyond offended. I was pissed off.

11.59 AM

As I stepped out of the elevator, I saw Mrs Taraporewala still by her door, now simply standing next to her potted plant. She smiled at me, without an iota of expectation, because she could see I had no emotion left to offer her. I merely nodded and walked to my house. I entered and gently shut the door behind me.

Epilogue:

When I woke up, there was silence and I was at peace. No leaky tap.

I knew there would be consequences to my actions; but then, what is life other than dealing with the consequences of your actions? I walked to the mirror and stared into it.

A woman in white stared right back at me.

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