Now that I can finally access my photos, I get to finally post the pictures from Holi (the Festival of Colors). I arrived in Delhi around 9pm on February 28, the actual day of Holi, so there were bonfires blazing all over the city as I made my way to Pahar Ganj, the place near the New Delhi Railway Station where most backpackers stay because it is cheap and there is good shopping there along the Main Bazaar (which by the way is an Indian word - hence the double "a")
One of the first signs I saw:
"Hotel Decent" - is it decent in the sense of mediocre, slightly above par accommodation or is there a strong sense of morality and decency? Not sure, but the prices were indecent (in both senses), so I went elsewhere. [Sidenote: Just yesterday, I began a novel set in India where the main character, a railway porter, took a foreign traveller to this very same guest house because the hotel offered a 2.5 rupee commission per guest brought in. I don't know if that's true, but I wouldn't be surprised.]
I found a cheap bed with a shared bathroom (that was just one and a half steps above filthy - which is half a step high enough for me) at Hare Rama. I checked out their rooftop restaurant (open 24 hours a day), unaware that the bazaar below that was so calm and quiet would become such a madhouse of color and noise in little more than 6 hours, on the day after Holi, the actual day of Colors.
The next morning after having breakfast on the roof, I exited in search of the friends I met in Cambodia who were staying at Hotel Regency, which as the name suggests was clearly out of my price range. On my way there I began understanding how pervasive the color really was. Even in the five minute walk, I had numerous strangers (old and young) approach me with color to put some on my face in what ranged from a respectable manner to a wild, mischievous manner, respectively. There were also numerous hoodlums (read: the smart ones) who were on the rooftops dumping buckets of colored liquid onto innocent passersby (especially the foreign-looking ones, whether white, black or east asian - all were equally exciting targets). I arrived at their hotel, but they had just woken up, so I went back out and made two friends (two girls from the US) who showed me where to buy chalk, and we just started walking.
One of the girls was really uncomfortable getting color in certain areas: first it was the hair, then it was the face, then it was the colored crazy foam that bothered her. Basically she helped me learn that the more you resist it, the more joy the children got from neglecting your wishes. I wasn't resistant at all, so I got much less color in my eyes and mouth than she did. While I was waiting for my friends to finish breakfast, I met two guys who told me the story of Holi.
The story conflicted with another, possibly more reliable source (and Wikipedia too, once I checked), but I'll just chalk it up to language barrier. :)
The girls finally finished breakfast and joined me and my two new friends, and we started getting more and more doused in color. The police were very protective of tourists, making sure that those that didn't want color didn't get color, and even separated us from the two Indian friends that I had made (we tried explaining that we weren't being bothered by them but that we were enjoying their company, but the police just started yelling and lightly "tapping" them with their huge sticks, so they went the other way). There was singing and dancing and just wild amounts of joy all day long.
It was an incredible experience to have my first full day in India be a day where smiling strangers touched my forehead and beard and arms and legs with chalk and gave me a handshake, hug or triple hug and a day where I touched smiling strangers with colorful chalk as well. There were no stores open, trying to get my business or taxis trying to get me to take a ride; there was just happiness and color and mischief.
Everyone I met that day was very friendly and warm, but I grabbed lunch with three people with whom I ended up spending quite a bit of time. Helena and Henrik from Sweden and Till from Germany. We had a lot of shared passions and interests and talked for hours on end over chai and good, cheap Indian food.
Helena was incredibly warm and talkative, with impeccable English excepting an occasional switch of the "y" and "j" sounds. She runs an arts cooperative that basically raises money for small arts organizations and independent artists by hosting not-so-legal (in the sense that they don't get permits and everything in Sweden needs permits) underground parties. It sounds like a pretty awesome job!
Henrik sort of looked like a ghost when we first met him with his long whitish hair and color everywhere. Then after he had washed the color off, he still looked somewhat ghostly, and that's when I found out that he'd been sick for basically all 5 weeks of his India trip, and he'd lost like 20 pounds. He was in really decent spirits, considering he was still sick. Quite a bit more reserved than Helena, but equally warm and laidback.
Though German was his first language, Till had a better understanding of English than I. He also knows Hindi, Urdu, Turkish, Persian, Ottoman, and he can read academic articles in French. I kind of secretly hate him. He is getting his doctorate in Indian Studies in Pittsburgh, and his wife is getting her doctorate in Economic Studies with a focus on Welfare Programs. His intelligence dwarfed me, but I learned a lot from him. He was an invaluable resource to me, teaching me much about India and its politics and history, as well as teaching me a lot about American politics and economics. He has also been to India 5 times, so he had lots of good advice about places to go and things to see, etc. When I first met
Till, his forehead had a perfect circle of diverse and contrasting colors:
Helena, as Rudolph
Even the cars got hit!
Helena (middle) and Henrik, after a washing
I was shocked to see these two stickers side by side, until I found out that this swastika goes the different direction from the Nazi one and has a completely separate even beautiful meaning to Hindus.
And yes, even the dogs and cows got color on them!