The Holi that we played with wet mud when we ran out of gulal is etched in my memory forever, as the sweet, immaculate soil connected us all with Mother Earth ― adding a splash of universality were two American women joining us in the celebration, writes SHASHI DIP

Holi is celebrated across the whole of India with different rituals in each region. But the most important aspect of Holi is that  it opens a new beginning, when people forgive and forget.

Personally, I have been very fortunate to have celebrated this festival since childhood till now. I never ever missed this colourful festival, whether it was celebrated on a big scale or modestly.

On the occasion of Holi this year, I recall a sweet memory of the festival, which we celebrated in the year 2014 in my brother’s housing complex. After celebrating Holi in our housing complex in Kandivali (East), Mumbai, where we played and greeted all friends in the complex, my family went to greet my brother in his housing society in Andheri.

Shashi Dip

There the festival was being celebrated with gay abandon. All were playing Holi on the lawns and water flowing through a thick pipe was being used. We were applying gulal and colours to each other and exchanging Holi wishes.

The lawn seemed like a muddy, marshy land and people were enjoying, splashing water, targeting each other with pichkaris, laughing, and really making merry. Our joy was boundless. The mud appeared clean ― immaculate, indeed. It seemed to blend in this festival of oneness.

The crowd of revellers was swelling, as more members joined in. Soon the gulal was over. People didn’t have to look long for a substitute, for there was an enticing alternative right in front of our eyes.

You might have guessed what it was ― Mother Earth. People quite naturally scooped a little bit of sweet-smelling soil and used it for putting tikas on each others’ foreheads. It was a beautiful feeling and a lovely sight.

Wet soil to all of us seemed so perfumed, healthy, natural and safe.

The best part was that, though people were playing madly, there was no vulgarity, no odious behaviour. Then there was another pleasant surprise.

In the midst of the celebrations, there appeared two lovely ladies, suddenly, out of nowhere.  They seemed to be in their forties. After some quizzing, we discovered that they were Americans, who were on their way to Kathmandu. However, due to some snag in the aircraft they were stranded at Mumbai. Not knowing when the flight would be rescheduled, they were loitering in the city.

Our laughter was so magnetic that they were attracted to the place of celebrations. We could see the curiosity writ large on their faces, and they couldn’t help asking ― both of them together ― “What’s happening here?”

My sister-in-law nudged me to go forward and explain what the celebration was all about. I soon wore the hat of cultural ambassador and breezily began my conversation with the two awe-struck ladies.

 It was a great feeling of pride to talk about our country, its rich culture and traditions ― and, of course, the significance of Holi. They refused to be silent listeners, but instead flooded me with queries ― beautiful and spontaneous ones, really. The queries were many, but I am reproducing here their important ones and will call them American Lady One (ALO) and American Lady Two (ALT).

ALO: “Why are you all chasing each other and applying colours? it seems so interesting and great fun really … Faaaaaantaaaastic!” she exclaimed in a typical American accent, grinning widely.

Me: “First of all, I thank you both for participating in our joy. When we apply colour on each other’s faces, we all look the same colour. Holi teaches us oneness. It bridges differences and inspires us to forget all about caste and creed; and to share a feeling of mutual love and goodwill. If we apply colour on your faces, nobody will make out you are American and I am Indian. We both will be merged like two sisters on this Earth.”

The author’s daughter playing Holi

ALT: “Why are you playing with mud and water? You guys are immersed in celebration and playing merrrrrrrily, aaaaahhhhh greatttttt fun!”

Me: “It is a matter of love and reputation of my nation. The colour of soil is natural. It is one of the five elements by which this universe is made up of. Soil is quite literally at the root of everything. It functions as an incredible source of interconnectedness across the globe. So when we apply mud on each other’s forehead, it shows great reverence for Mother Earth and signifies its giving nature. It connects us all with love, respect, unity and brotherhood.”

I explained to them all the details they wanted to know about Holi, meticulously; and I really enjoyed doing so. It was a feeling of Satsang with fun.

Though I am not in favour of a wet Holi and I like simple dry gulal Holi, it’s okay to have some change once in a while, but, of course, inside the Laxman Rekha. No crossing of limits, in rituals dedicated to the festival. Excess of anything is always bad.

This year there’s not even a  dry Holi with others, due to Covid-19. So, let’s have fun with our memories, which are beyond the reach of that virus.

Shashi Dip is a thinker, bilingual writer, poet, columnist, social activist and an author of the book ‘Waves Within (Horizon and Beyond)’. She is associated with various literary associations and has written more than 200 blogs, 500 quotes in Hindi/Urdu and English and 100 poems in both Hindi and English.

More Stories by Shashi Dip

(Featured Image: The author Shashi Dip (second from left) flanked by the two American women, who joined in the celebration)