moments from Holi

First Colors

Holi began this afternoon for me as I walked through a crowd of students joyfully milling around the Imperial Public School near my house. “Didi!” called a girl I’d never seen before, the joy in her voice making me feel like I truly was her big sister. She carefully applied bright pink powder to my third-eye and cheeks, then ran off with her friends.

As I turned the corner, two girls who live near to us greeted me happily as they do every day. Their smiles grew even bigger when they saw the color on my face.

“Didi, wait. One minute,” the smaller of the girls told me as they ducked inside their house. An older woman outside found that hilarious, and kept repeating it, “Didi wait.” They soon emerged with their bag of pink powder, and added their own marks to the grinning canvas of my face.

I didn’t have any return color with me, but no one seemed to mind. There was a heartfelt joy in the exchange that I had not anticipated—I’d been expecting more joking, war-like playing, which will probably come later. For now though, before the battle starts, I’ve seen Holi’s love.

At my homestay

As soon as I got home with color on my face my homestay sister made me wait while she ran and got red sparkly powder. She put some on me, my homestay brother added some, and I put some on both of them and the girl who works for the family. I ended up with a design that looked something like war paint.

School Games

Friday afternoon went by slowly. My class, 5th and 7th grade students, really didn’t want to do much work, and I chose not to force them. After all, it was the beginning of their Holi holiday. We did some work, then the students wrote about and drew their plans for Holi.

At 2:15 I had to run over to the preschool classroom, where the children had taken advantage of their teacher’s brief absence and started throwing yellow powder at each other. It took a few minutes to restore order.

Finally 2:35 came and I turned my class loose. They milled around for a little bit before one by one heading outside. While they chased each other around the courtyard, I kept two of my older students company inside.

Many of my students came to put tika on my forehead and a little color on my cheeks as well. I had thought this would be a “ha ha I get to throw color at my teachers” type of thing, but instead I was amazed  by the amount of affection and respect in the gesture. Some of them even touched my feet.

After cleaning up we drove back to the city school where the festivities should have been long done, but the students and some teachers were still playing full out. There the game was of a different style, and I got covered in various colors—red, pink, orange, yellow, dark green, dark purple—all over my face and neck and arms and hair. I even ate some of the powder, and it tastes nasty.

On the Roof

For Holi itself we slept over at a Banarasi friend’s house, then played on the roof with students and foreigners from various different groups and organizations. Although I took a while to decide to go up on the roof, once I got up there I had a fair bit of fun. Weapons included the powders, colored water in water guns and buckets, and occasional water balloons.

After a fair bit of time, we laughed at our purple clothes and skin and spent a while basking in the sun before helping clean up and taking a shower—the first of many before all the color would finally come out.


That evening we followed proper traditions and went out to visit our teachers and friends. We applied tika color to their foreheads and were tika-ed and fed in return. The woman who cooks for us was verysurprised and  happy to see us, and we spent a while sitting and talking with her. I arrived at one teacher’s house at the same time a small elephant did.  I was lucky enough to give him a tika as well, although I had to keep him from eating my bag of green powder as I did so.

I don’t have any deep conclusions to offer you about Holi, but I really, really enjoyed all the different aspects of the festival and would love to share in its celebration again.

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