A few days earlier, with Holi right around the corner, the discussions in office naturally gravitated towards bhang stories, long weekend plans, and Holi parties.
But the one thing that stood out starkly in these discussions for me was how, almost all of us (especially the women), had a personal story, and a tried and tested tip on ‘staying safe’ this Holi. And contrary to my childhood practices, it wasn’t a piece of advice to keep my skin safe.
I was dismayed at the discussions, but not shocked. Because sadly for me (and I assume for a lot of us), Holi is no longer the festival I grew up loving, enjoying and creating colourful memories of.
As a kid, Holi was one of my most favourite festivals. I was never a morning person – still am not – but on Holi, I was always the first kid to get up.
From filling water balloons to hiding colours in corners, and lugging up buckets of water on the terrace – I put greater efforts in my Holi preparations than even my board exams. I was an expert at gorging on gujias, using water guns and ensuring that my cousins’ hair and faces resembled a rainbow.
Then college and work happened. I moved to a different city, leaves were hard to avail, and Holi wasn’t always about going home. And that’s also the time when Holi celebrations started taking a shape I wasn’t comfortable with, or happy about.
You’d have to live under a rock to not know how some people use Holi as an excuse to trouble, assault, and even harass innocent bystanders. And it was the same for me and some of my friends.
I was all for smearing colour and throwing water around, but not when the other person was clearly uncomfortable. Even growing up, some of my cousins were not fans of Holi, and apart from some innocent teasing (that I regret now), I did not force them to participate.
I was always taught to not cross boundaries. And yet, when I was an adult myself, the same courtesy was not awarded to me and my friends. Whether it was escaping eggs or worse: groping hands, Holi outside of home for me meant staying indoors for the most time.
I spent a lot of Holis away from home, munching on chips, inside my hostel room, watching old movies. And crying silent tears over how I could no longer enjoy the things and activities that, at one time, made up my fondest childhood memories.
Because of course, the onus to ‘stay safe’ was on me. Kyunki bura na mano holi hai?
It’s a truly heartbreaking moment when your favorite childhood memories get twisted, and oft times destroyed, because of a certain people’s immoral (but sadly, not considered illegal) actions.
And turning Holi into hooliganism hasn’t just taken away my favorite festival from me. It has also instilled in me a fear. Because I know that in the name of playing, chances are, I could be taken advantage of. Just like the women I read about, who’ve had vile balloons thrown on them or were hurt in the supposedly fun Holi parties.
I also know of pets and favorite strays who were harmed because of reckless behavior. Behaviour I cannot hold anyone accountable for, because it was done in a moment of fun? Also, just like me, there are a number of friends who now avoid Holi due to allergic reactions – reactions we can’t control because people assume we’re being ‘delicate’ and ‘rude’ for saying no to certain colours.
Somewhere in my heart, there is still a kid who misses the festival that turned even a night owl like me into a morning person. And even today, I don’t mind getting coloured a hundred different shades with my friends, cousins, and family members.
But I know for a fact that Holi does not invoke the same emotions and memories for many of my colleagues and friends. And no matter how much I wish I could change their perception, reality won’t allow me to.
Every now and then I hear stories, read about incidents, and sadly, also have such experiences that smear the memories I grew up with. And yet I continue to hope that there will be a time in the future when the words holi hai won’t be accompanied by an experienced voice griping, phir se?
All images used in this article for representational purpose only.