When I threw open the curtains on the morning of March 6, I knew something wasn’t right. It was supposed to be Holi—the famous Festival of Colors where people throw colored chalk at each other in the street without reservations—but everything looked painfully normal.
I’ve heard a few stories about what Holi represents. Culturally the Festival of Colors celebrates the onset of spring. Religiously Holi celebrates Krishna, a colorful and playful god who had a way with the ladies. One of our new local friends told us she suspects the reason Holi is played less in Southern India is because the south is more conservative (and Krishna is a bit colorful, to say the least). A different friend from Southern India said Holi commemorates a different avatar of Vishnu altogether—one who killed an evil immortal man in his doorway.
For a few hours I pouted, knowing I wouldn’t be coming home from India with one of those iconic crowd shots of people throwing colored dust in the air, but once I quit my woulda-coulda-shoulda party I grabbed my camera and hit the streets to see what I could find.
I did find a few Northern Indians celebrating. Luckily a few friends, Alok and Radha, also invited us to “play Holi,” as Indians call it, with their family and a group of their close friends the next day. We had a blast throwing color, dancing like fools, stuffing our faces, and battling with water for hours.
Holi did not turn out like I expected, but it was a positive reminder that I cannot assume that a country like India will pose for me and my expectations. Southern India has its own customs and its own festivals; India is diverse and complex. One man at the Holi party said that every 200 kilometers you will find people who look different, sound different, speak different, and practice totally different customs. Each state in India is almost like a separate country, making any packaged ideas of what India is like far too simplistic. Bangalore is a new, cosmopolitan city that brings people in from all over the map. So no I didn’t get the Holi I imagined, but instead I got a more authentic experience with a community from all over the country who came together to celebrate, like me.