I haven’t played with water and colours for Holi in nearly a decade. This weekend, though, it’s the spring festival again, and many of the friends I played with back then are in Delhi, getting together for a Holi party. Very kindly, they have included me in the emails discussing the preparations, and I am feeling more than a twinge of envy. Not so much for the spatter of colour, the wet mud or the sinking realization that months of brutal summer will soon descend after this saturnalia, but for the bhang, which is being procured and prepared even as I type this. Some of my best memories of JNU are, ironically, associated with this memory-tampering device. But, across the world, walking back home from school a short while ago, the full moon was shining white in the dark blue evening sky to my left with the Golden Gate bridge awash in glorious sunset hues to my right. Holi was in the air, alright. Holi hai!
To my mind, one of the best descriptions in English of Holi and its laden joys is in Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy:
On the morning of Holi, Maan woke up smiling. He drank not just one but several glasses of thandai laced with bhang and was soon as high as a kite. He felt the ceiling floating down towards him – or was it he who was floating up towards it? As if in a mist he saw his friends Firoz and Imtiaz…[and] went forward to wish them a happy Holi. But all he could manage was a continuous stream of laughter. They smeared his face with colour and he went on laughing. They sat him down in a corner and he continued laughing till the tears rolled down his cheeks. The ceiling had now floated away entirely, and it was the walls that were pulsing in and out in an immensely puzzling way.
[On their way to Pran's] "Oh, we’ll take a tonga, a tonga", said Maan, waving his arms around and embracing Firoz. "But first drink some thandai, it’s got an amazing kick." ….He was not very steady on his feet as it was, and he stumbled and fell into the bed of yellow cannas. He raised his head long enough among the flowers to sing the single line, "Oh revellers, it’s Holi in the land of Braj!" and sat down again, disappearing from view. A minute later, like a cuckoo-clock, he got up again to repeat the same line and sat down once again.
Bollywood, of course, has plenty of Holi songs, one of the most famous ones, from the film Silsila featuring Amitabh Bachchan, being the title of this post. You can view it here. One of our friends regularly got stuck on one line from this very song for hours every year and I expect he will this year, too. There’s another dance from the film Don, though, that is not about holi, but which Amitabh does after drinking some bhang, that I thought I’d share with you, even though the video quality leaves something to be desired. The
catatonic limb movements, dance moves and the song were quite popular as we moved around campus looking for people to drag through the mud pit or smear with colour. I marvel as I look at it now, but there was a time when daddy long legs was my world. The song also features the gorgeous Zeenat Aman; both of them are on the run from the bad guys (after the gang found out that he was just a country bumpkin from the banks of the Ganga and working for the police), and they stop for a song break (naturally!) when they come across some of his folk and they offer him some, um, refreshment. He’s thrilled because he hasn’t had any in quite a while, and tells us how he got himself into a pickle. The song begins:
When the bhang works its colourful magic
pick up a paan to chew
Such a jolt it gives your insides
it’s like you’re born anew!
Oh well. There’s also other colours to look at: