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Happy Happy Holi

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Dear Readers,
            You may have noticed that I've not been posting new stories in the past few months. This is because I'm working on putting all of my travel writings into a book. I hope you will enjoy it when it gets published. This is a big endeavor, since all of these vignettes need editing, so I beg your indulgence if my stories on line do not change as frequently as you would like. Please scroll down to visit the archive, if you've already read what's here. Thanks for understanding, Diana
P.S. The book will come out this Spring. To all of my readers: I invite you personally to join Dave and me at our book party. Please email me at email@tradewindsvt.com and request to be placed on our book party invitation list.

                                                                By Diana McLeod                                        2018

        The big drums started two days before the full moon, beating incessantly. Frenzied rhythms were pulsating outside our guesthouse as we tried to go to sleep, and they serenaded us again when we awoke in the morning. It was the day before Holi, the Springtime water and color festival, and excitement was building. You could feel it in the streets. An impressive dung market set up right outside the fancy hotel. (I bet they were thrilled to see huge stacks of cow pies for sale, right near the entrance to their upscale rooftop restaurant). The dung was being sold so that neighborhoods could build impressive bonfires of it that night. (Cow dung, one must remember, is all too plentiful in Rajasthan towns. In fact, it’s rather difficult to avoid. Wood, on the other hand, is scarce and expensive. Besides, dried cow dung burns hot and fast, doesn’t give off much smoke once it gets going, and the smoke has a surprisingly pleasant smell.) Brightly painted sticks were also being sold for burning, each one with a wish for the coming year. In the market, vendors sold the colored powders that would virtually coat the entire town on the following day.

        That evening, the bonfires were lit. Each neighborhood had their own community fire, surrounded by colorful patterns of heaped powder. As each fire grew hotter, local families circled the flames, tossing in offerings and saying prayers. Smoke billowed skywards as the swollen full moon turned dusky orange overhead. At intervals, sporadic bursts of fireworks erupted from various points around the city. Drums rolled and crescendoed, and were answered by other, more distant drummers. The sound reverberated off the walls of the ancient castle/fortress on the hill above the city.

        The next day was the actual day of Holi. We talked to our hotel owner, and he reassured us that we’d be safe enough in his city. (There are many cities in India where Holi celebrations get out of control, and it’s not advisable to go outside – especially for foreign women.) In Rajasthan, a desert state where water is scarce, most people simply make do with throwing or smearing colored powder on everyone. It is a far cleaner and more civilized celebration than in other parts of India where water balloons full of colored dye are the norm. We all put on carefully selected clothing and prepared to brave the street celebrations. There were four of us; Dave and me, our old friend Maria, who has a clothing and handicraft shop in Jacksonville, Florida, and her cousin Michelle. I put on a cheap kameez (a long, slitted Indian dress) and a rather indestructible pair of black pants. Dave wore a shirt that a Thai laundry had already shrunk past the point of comfort. He left his fancy camera behind as we waded out into the danger zone.

        Just down the street from our hotel, the party was getting started. Indian pop music was thumping from a set of heavy-duty speakers, and a morning dance party was well under way. We joined a group of young men gyrating to the infectious melodies, copying their Bollywood dance moves as best we could. We were welcomed into the party, and were covered with the first colors of the day. Maria and Michelle were the lucky ones. They were soon smeared with pink and purple. I got stuck with green, so I spent most of the day looking like Kermit the frog, although my face experienced every color of the rainbow. Mostly they just grabbed my cheeks and patted my chin, but powder soon covered most of my arms as well.

        We wound up hanging out at a number of Holi parties that morning. There were roving gangs of brightly colored young men zooming around on motorcycles, who all stopped to flirt with the girls, and other marauding armies of boys on foot. Everyone we met asked us to pose for photos with them. Michelle and Maria were treated like rock stars (because, what young Indian male does not want to be seen by all his friends with his arm around the shoulders of cute, foreign females.) Luckily, Dave was there to insure that they didn’t get too molested. The entire city was overtaken by painted people. Even the cows were turning colors.

        We even encountered a ladies’ Holi party. In many towns, Holi gets so out of hand that women feel unable to participate, outside of the confines of their own homes. Here, the local authorities were keeping a careful eye on the boys (a fierce looking policeman armed with a bamboo lathi stick lounged watchfully on the corner), so the local women felt safe enough to come out and play. Most of them refused to have colors dirty their beautiful saris, but they did come out to dance. For a few minutes, we joined in, but we mostly preferred to watch as they had a good time. Their hands moved gracefully as they swayed to the rhythm of the big drums.

        After a couple of hours, the layers of caked-on colored powders were turning to dirty, greasy rivulets of sweat down our necks, and we decided we’d had enough. By this time, the streets were turning purple and pink, and even the cow-piss on the paving stones was dripping colorfully into the drains. One kid had dumped a bag of pink colored dye right over Dave’s head, and that, unlike most of the powders, was not going to come out. It was time to get back to our hotel for a serious scrubdown. It took a good half an hour to come clean, and we even had to clean the floors, because powder residue was turning our wet footprints pink. Dave could not get all the dye out of his hair and off his skin. I think he’ll be pink for several weeks… Still, no real harm was done, and the residents of Jodhpur gave us a very polite and pleasant Holi.


        Thanks for reading, Diana McLeod

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