We arrived in India on the day of Holi after a surreal series of events.
Imagine an edgy Guy Ritchie movie montage starting with a night out at a friends art exhibition in Bangkok leading into a frantic taxi car chase to catch a 2am plane, with an immigration/visa drama followed by another taxi ride involving a potentially drunk and almost certainly lost taxi driver without a word of English. Then after a number of miraculous near crashes said taxi screeches to a halt outside a waking slum as the sun rises over the city of Mumbai. From the torn canvas roofs looms the slightly eastern bloc architecture of the Dheeraj II housing complex…
I’ve written what followed out in full but have opted to omit it. There were risks taken, small victories followed by crushing defeats. After run ins with familiar accents and Bollywood actors as real life hero’s, we finally made it to our hosts apartment. He listened to our story with a knowing smile and assured us that in India, “no matter how crazy or impossible it seems, things always work out at the very last minute”. I thought he was being consolatory or philosophical, but over the next month or so we came to learn exactly how true his words were.
The adventures didn’t stop there. Our first day in India had only just begun.
Holi is the biggest party in India and we didn’t even know it was on. A day where class boundaries are broken and everyone is on the same level. Yashas had a party lined up a friend of a friend in the flash part of the city, so we jumped in a Rickshaw. Before long we were soaked. Sleepless, disorientated with the ups and downs and frazzled emotions and now we’d found ourselves the target of a city-wide waterbombing operation. The rickshaw took a few flying bottles of water and full bucket emptied over it (the poor can’t afford paint or waterbombs but damn straight they’re getting involved) and the driver grinned his whole way through it. It appeared that whatever happened during Holi was ok with the gods, and therefore ok with the people.
From what I gather, some demon king with a really long name was granted immortality by the creator Brahma, but his son Prahlada prayed to Vishnu, the protector. He tried to kill Prahlada but Vishnu wasn’t having a bar of that. So demon dude has a sister called Holika (Holi), and she’s impervious to fire. He chucks his son on a pyre with his demon sister and flames them. Turns out even though Brahma is the father of the dude who is the father of all things, Vishnu is a big dog. Specifically, he is “the all-pervading essence of all beings, the master of—and beyond—the past, present and future, the creator and destroyer of all existences” which I feel pretty much makes him the kingpin. Once the smoke clears Holika is all but ashes and Prahlada is alive. And somehow, out of all of that, we celebrate the burning of Holi. Right on girl.
The party we went to was in a fenced off community space surrounded by upmarket apartments in central Mumbai. There was a huge sound system belting out bangra tunes at an awkwardly high volume, a structure of sprinklers raining constantly and a huge table with mountains of different coloured paint powder. We sifted in and got a feel for things, trying to look inconspicuous and failing. People were staring at us. Not unkindly but definitely surprised that some foreigners had shown up to their neighbourhood bloc party. Were we welcome? There were other Holi parties for tourists, maybe we belonged at one of those instead? I saw the news of our arrival spread among the people and soon we had a swarm of people shaking our hands and asking our good names. Then I felt hands in my hair, on my face and all over my neck. Through my eyelashes I could see thick green powder. Before long we were covered head to toe paint, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, purple…
At this point Yashas confided that none of his friends were there and we were probably at the wrong party. Chur.
What a blast. What a truly joyous occasion. Channeling some higher connection, people sang and danced with an infectiously ecstatic smile. A man my age stood under the sprinklers casting his arms upwards towards the sky with the water streaming down his face. Gazing upwards in blissful rapture that I thought to be a bonafide religious state. I would have been jealous had he not been so enthusiastic to share the experience with me. Once we established we weren’t just there for the food, we became targets for extra paint. It was as if everyone could sense we were fresh (so damn fresh) and needed a paint powder baptism.
Then out came the bhang lhassie and it all made sense. Chemical catalyst. Opium, hash and a cocktail of other spices were mixed into a deceptively tasty lhassie. Like most religious experiences, the bonafide connection wasn’t without an enhancement. Yashas was knocking it back, I saw an old lady getting into it as well so I thought nothing of it. Soon enough my strung out state got even more surreal. I had my first Indian meal, which blew my mind. Yes. This moment. I was at the wrong Indian block party tasting flavours I’d never come accross with textures I couldn’t have imagined before this moment. Yes. Yes! The music rippled me through to a parrellel dimension where I was lifted up and held aloft under sun refracting sprinklers. The water coagulated the colours of my formerly white shirt into a funky marble of pooey brown. Incidentally, that same brown came to represent the rest of India over the coming months.
Unfortunately Yashas was pretty well bent. Tara was on form and happy, but our host was tweaking out of shape. He had that manic kind of countenance where your skin draws back over your scalp and your hair sticks up and your eye balls bulge out. Haha classic! …..Life! We established that home was a good idea, but where was home? That is a whole other story. Honestly, even the elevator ride up to his apartment is a whole other story.
This is what my hat looked like the next day. I reckon it belongs in a gallery.