The march of 2000 witnessed my last frenzied Holi. It’s been 12 years, and to most of the people disbelief, I was a Holi fanatic. Holi was the only festival that topped my list of festival likes, with every other festival a big turnoff, this seems to draw the influence from my north Indian roots.
The events that unfolded in from of the tremors and the aftershocks felts due to shifting of tectonic plates in Kutch on January 2001 brought shock and trauma followed by a wave of human solidarity. Our town lies in the district next to Kutch, the earthquake spared us, but we had continuous pouring of relief material, medical supplies to be sent to the affected areas, volunteers (including my family members, neighbors and kith and kin) brought stories of pain and horror. The misery failed to abet for months. The empathy ran high in the common man, spirit of volunteerism wherein common people used their own means to help others, some went ahead to adopt kids who lost their families. The after months were equally mournful, and the effect lingered and something sank in my heart after knowing, feeling so much of pain, suffering, and our own helplessness in front of nature’s fury.
The aftershocks continued for months, almost daily or alternately, we slept in communities outside our homes for those months. In midst of these times of a tragedy there was no zeal for a festival like Holi, nobody even wanted to think about it. I felt guilty to do something like that in this hour of tragedy. That marked the first year of abandoning Holi.
The following year’s month of Feb. was even more traumatic, the bloody riots of Gujarat, the ruthless massacre of innocent women, children and men and the height of human hatred for their fellows was shocking for a 16-year-old girl. Palanpur, my town and the adjacent small towns of kanodar, sidhpur have a good presence of the minority community, the more safe I felt for being a Hindu equally horrified I was for my Muslim friends. We always had a good Muslim population in our school and that led to some long and intimate friendships. Thankfully, to the vigilant collector of our district we did not witness any untoward incident, apart from few Muslim commercial establishments being burned down. My friends were safe and their properties were insured, that gave me a relief.
Living amidst curfews and rumors running an all time high, and in a condition of house arrest, the private channels like Aaj Tak, Zee News, Start Plus News were our only means of knowing what was happening out there. The images and news that came in, were frightening. Even remembering today, a chill runs through my spine of those horrifying events. I was too young to understand how could people take videos and not save people who are being killed in front of their eyes repeatedly every night.
The drawing discussions of our homes where majority joined in to parrot the RSS and VHP filled me with hatred for them, these were the same people who were demi gods in the last year’s natural massacre. The stories they brought and the hand of the high command they talked, it was all very clear to us, that this is happening because the govt wants it that way. And the common man decide to either keep mute (like my family did this time) or go gung- ho, like the RSS sevaks and supporters (same ppl who were heroes an yr back) who marched our streets and glorified these shameful acts.
With so much of human blood that flooded the state for two consecutive years right before the Holi time, and the stark difference between people attitude made that 16-year-old distasteful for the red color and those whom she shared the Holi day. Then on, Holi seems to fade away from memory.
Today when I rationalize, I have ample reasons to shut off from a festival of madness. The usage of harmful, toxic chemical combinations in colors, if not, then the sheer wastage of a scare resource like water is reprehensible. There is enough outrageous behavior in the name of Holi, such as artificial rain dance parties hosted in cities, and citizens blindly submitting to these gimmicks without a second thought.
With that, the indiscriminate Holi bonfires that further choke our lungs. (A report on Gujarat cites, that it takes around 100 kg of wood for one single bonfire; add it up for 30,000 such known bonfires in the state).
We have enough reasons to ponder at our festive celebrations and the feeling of goodwill and kinship (and when do we actually need to put it into effect) we associate with such events. It is for each one of us to challenge the widely accepted norms and habits that have gone unchecked and are rendered irreverent in changing times.
I have enough reasons for my mind and heart not to go back into another folly. But, for those who can’t resist at least innovate constructively to celebrate such events.