For these expats, taking part in the festival of colours, Holi —was a life altering experience
Holi is one of the most popular festivals, not just in India but across the globe. For cultural travellers, nirvana seekers, Indophile, Holi has been a sought after festive bonanza — so much so that they would go out of their way to participate in the festival of colours.
People across the globe rejoice during Holi as is evident from a post of one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Novak Djokovic, who tweeted: “wishing you all a joyful and safe celebration. May the festivities bring lots of colour and happiness to your life.” And the tweet ended with an emoji of a red heart.
“Bright colours add a new dimension to self as if soaked in the colours of joy, and playing with colours is like an existential bliss,” says J Majors, 35, a tall, lanky Berliner, “all become part of the communal joy of colours that grows with sharing,” he adds with poetic exuberance.
He was in Varanasi for Holi last year, consumed bhang in plenty, danced like a “Shiva” where, as he puts it eloquently, “the randomness of the movement had some kind of a rhythm.” He’s an environmentalist and a musician, and is seeking the “divine rhythm in all activities of life.” Father of a five-year-old son, he comes to India every two years for three months, and makes sure he doesn’t miss Holi. He has already been to Vrindavan, Varanasi, and three years ago celebrated Holi in a farmhouse in Delhi with his rich Indian friends. “I’m fairly experienced at celebrating Holi,” Majors quips, and isn’t joking about it.
Last year during Holi he camped with the Naga sadhus for two days in Varanasi. He was blissfully doped for most of the time, singing and dancing, sleeping on a jute mat in the open Ghats, didn’t even scrubbed clean colours for days together, though, would occasionally take a plunge in the Ganges. Life had come to a standstill and yet Majors was experiencing a lot on the spiritual plane, an experience he finds hard to put in words.
“Those two days passed in a flash,” he recollects, has a faint recollection of what all happened, apart from the fact that he was experiencing unbound joy. There were no people, or events clouding his mind, just this “feeling of euphoria, and varied colours were so true — a symbol of the bouquet of strong emotions I was experiencing. There was no fear or anxiety, I was so consumed in the present experience, that nothing could really distract, he explained.” “I could experience my true self by distancing myself from my own life,” Majors sums up the experience.
This life was a big change, and an escape, from a highly regimental life he leads in Berlin, where all aspects of life are sanitised and regulated and planned, each day a repetition of the last. “The regality of daily life can drive people insane—something that the people in the West don’t realise,” agrees Pazzo Y, 40,who is from Oulu in Finland.
Pazzo was in Vrindavan for Holi last year. A teacher, he is fond of adventure sports and online gaming and has been married twice. Three years ago he had a bitter separation from his second wife that left him feeling dejected and depressed, his self-confidence plummeted, and he started to feel he’s no good.
Pazzo took a break from his work and travelled to India, it was something he wanted to do for a long time. The randomness, heat and dust of India, destabilised him a bit, initially, but later he felt in love with it. “I was sure to go mad. I had suffered so much back home in Oulu, and now in India, I felt I’d suffocate, it was a mad frenzy here,” he narrates. Initially, he felt frozen in the frantic activities around him, but later, it happened rather seamlessly, he started to enjoy it, sort of in sync with his own inherent restlessness.
He travelled to Kerala and learned Yoga for a couple of months before arriving in Vrindavan to participate in Holi. He joined hundreds of people on the streets playing wet Holi. “They were all strangers but felt very close to each one of them as if they are members of my family.” He made some local friends who he stayed with during Holi. He was offered bhang and was hesitant initially, but later decided to take it.
“I felt like my heart would bounce out of my heart,” he narrates. But someone told him “if you’re going to die, enjoy your death.” Those words stuck in his head. And he was rather committed to doing it. He didn’t die but enjoyed a lot. “Death gave my life a perspective,” he says. There’s a picture of frantic Holi playing in Vrindavan hanging over his mantelpiece. And when he’s down, out of sorts, he looks at the picture—the vibrant colours of Holi—he feels his chirpy self again.
For Maudlin, 27, French computer programmer, musician and online game junky, Holi is letting the madness take over—in a nice sense. She’s a control freak, she takes care of her belongings in meticulous order, paranoid about her health to an unhealthy level, and is self-critical to almost neurotic levels. She has a partner, Thomas, 29, from Belgium, they met when the two were backpacking in India and Sri Lanka in 2018.
“We were together, but she needs her space and very often we check into different rooms, or travel separately for days, and meet again after some time,” he explains the strangeness of their togetherness, “I didn’t mind it because I’m a bit of a loner as well,” he added. She was very comfortable with any form of uncertainty in life, and life is, all said and done, fairly uncertain. It was during her travels that she realised that uncertainty is after all not so bad.
And the two had a life-changing experience during Holi celebration in Varanasi. The two were stoned out of wits and smeared so much with colours that couldn’t even recognise each other. “I didn’t look like me. He didn’t look like him. And I was absolutely clueless and lost in this colourful world. I don’t know how we managed to reach our room. A feeling I always was too scared—to lose my bearings. But, despite the real mess we were in, it felt good and nice and joyful and all of the good feelings together, and it felt like my fears are not my friends but my enemies, and I wondered why I’m so scared to live my life,” narrated Maudlin, she became emotional as she uttered these sentences. Thomas and Maudlin plan to get married this summer if the pandemic situation is not too bad.
That’s how some expatriates celebrate Holi in its true spirit, not just to make friends or to explore — but also to tame their inner demons and be motivated to lead a fairly colourful life.
(Cover image: Credit: Picador)