Holi: Unifying the Electoral Colours of Politics, Ribaldry and its Spread in the West

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With the trends and results of Assembly polls in five states in India, it’s celebration time for the winning parties and candidates in the largest democracy of the world. It’s also about the bawdy and ribald nature of the spring festival. And lastly, Arindam talks about the and acceptance by Americans and others in the West, where the Indian Diaspora is strong. A report, exclusively for Different Truths.

This year, it’s a Holi with a difference. And it has begun in the BJP headquarters in the state and district headquarters, in Uttar Pradesh, where the party is leading in 314 seats out of 403 Assembly segment seats in the state – though these are early trends, as this article is being filed. With Holi and politics mixing this year in keeping with the colour and mood of the elections that has come to an end, let us talk of the exuberance and vibrancy of the spring festival that is being mirrored and paralleled in the politics of five states – depending who wins where.

Holi unifies us all in vibrant colours and asks us to drown all differences with the cry, “Bura na mano Holi Hai!”(Do not feel bad it’s Holi). Perhaps, this year, it’s a message for the political parties too. They played to the galleries and said things that they thought would get votes. Blow all that away with a fistful of Gulal and embrace each other.

Holi is also about ribaldry in my part of India. There are loud and lewd sexual innuendoes that we do not mind for a day or two. Spring is a time of fertility and bounty. Perhaps that explains the sexual overtones of the festival. During this time, we allow the regimented, tutored and civilised selves to take a backseat, reminding us of DH Lawrence’s autobiographical poem, Red Herring:

We children were the in-betweens

little non-descripts were we,

indoors we called each other you

outside, it was thou and thee.

Thus, it’s the ‘you’ versus the ‘thou and thee’ that’s in perpetual conflict. We let the mundane and the gross win for a day, during Holi.

Unholy Holi

There are Hasya Kavi Sammelans, where bawdy poems are recited and applauded. It’s loud and boisterous – vulgar and obscene – something that we laugh at and forget, quite like a dirty joke. At Assi Ghat, in Varanasi, after Holi, there is a meet of poets, where four letter words fly thick and fast. Verses are woven from abusive words, creatively – these poems are similar to the camp songs in the West. It’s an all-men affair.  Women leave homes and go over to their friends or relative’s places for a night, while the men – grandfathers, uncles, fathers, sons, et al enjoy it, with their respective peers.

Underground with Hindi dohas (couplets) and chaupais (quartets), complete with dirty pictures a la graffiti emerge. In these publications, there are poems about politicians and political parties too. Holi and politics have been braided together in ribald literature for a long time.

During Holi, there are mock Barats (bridegroom parties). Often the bridegroom is made to sit on an ass (no pun here) smeared with colours and face paints. The entire group that is inebriated, sing and dance. Another boy cross-dresses as a bride. Needless to say that the boy-bride is groped and grabbed obscenely, all under the pretext of intoxication and ‘Bura na mano Holi hai’.

Outgrowing Holi Revelry

What we find fun and funny at one stage in our life – during our teenage days – could be downright disgusting, for some, as we grow older. Values change. I am saying it without being judgmental.

As a young lad, I enjoyed Holi. I remember that when I was about seven or eight-year-old, I would wait to be part of the toli of boys in Railway colony, where we grew up. There were different tolis of men and women and all would parade through the colony, playing Holi. There was no eve teasing and women were safer those days, moving from house to house. Things have changed for the worse. Sadly, women groups are attacked if they are seen on the streets.

Things are better in the defense colonies, where lampoon elements do not enter. It’s good in residential colonies, like apartments too, with its security guards and gates.

I kept playing Holi till my university days. The fun was going to each other homes and enjoying the Holi delicacies, including Thandai, ladoos, barfis and Bhang ki Mithai, with gujiyas, papads, chips, dahi vadas, etc.

Later, I stopped playing Holi. This was partly because the quality of colours declined too. The so-called good colours react. There are burning sensations, with rashes. Later, it was due to the awareness of saving scarce . Dry Holi is better. It’s cleaner.

These days, tell children about environment and importance of water. Many children, mostly teenagers, abstain from throwing coloured waters at each other. There is a shift towards dry Holi these days.

Popularity of Holi in the West

Just the other day, our Managing Editor, Anumita, was telling me about the growing popularity of Holi in America. Though Diwali has been accepted officially by the Federal Government, Holi remains a festival of the people. The vibrant exuberance of the spring festival has caught the of the American youth.

Large numbers of Indian students migrate every year, even if temporarily, to various universities and community . Unlike the early Indian migrants (from 1950’s to the 70’s), who aped the West and tried to be Americanised to be accepted, the youth of today are far more confident. This could be because of the fact that there are strong pockets of Indian communities in the US, now, she said.

In Florida, Utah and other places, they play Holi in large fields. Indians and their American spouses and/or friends enjoy the festivities. There are Holi Parades in New York, where film actors from Bollywood participate too. The boisterous songs, dances, camaraderie bring the Indian and American youth together. Similarly, Holi celebrations are a reality now in UK and other countries with strong Indian Diaspora.

There are many shades and hues of this festival of colours that unifies us all. Let’s enjoy Holi the way politicians and political parties are celebrating it in the largest democracy of the world. Let us celebrate the bawdy and ribald Holi. Move towards dry Holi and save water. And enjoy it with our friends in America, UK and other countries with Indian Diaspora.

It’s time to drown all our difference and enjoy the spring festival with the cry, “Bura na mano Holi Hai!”

Happy and Safe Holi to one and all!

©Arindam Roy

Photos from the internet.

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