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Holi-er than thou

The festival of colours is just around the corner and water balloon and pichkari-armed kids are a common sight already. Rachana Dubey on the nuances of the colourfest...

art and culture Updated: Mar 06, 2009 20:09 IST
Rachana Dubey
Rachana Dubey
Hindustan Times
Holi-er than thou

The festival of colours is just around the corner and water balloon and pichkari-armed kids are a common sight already. Rachana Dubey on the nuances of the colourfest

It’s that time of the year when the young and old express their joy at the change of season with water, gulal and bhang. Holi is correlated with the she-demon Holika’s dehan in an attempt to kill her nephew Bhakt Prahlad.

In Mumbai, the traditionally disguised Holi has, over time, turned into an opportunity for revelry. Weeks before the day dawns, Mumbai sees a prelude in the form of water-filled balloons being thrown from terraces and balconies on unsuspecting passers-by. In the last few years, the celebrations have reached such proportions that for a week prior, people for whom such fun and games spell nuisance, stay indoors, bolted.

But it's still a day when friends and families meet, smear colours and have their meal together.

At one time, everyone in Bollywood, from every star worth their salt and pepper to the top-of-the-rung clapper boys, would congregate on Holi at RK Studio. An invitation to participate in the festivities meant that you had arrived in showbiz.

Bollywood hungama
Men were dunked in water, and singing, dancing, food and fun were the high points. After Raj Kapoor passed away, these festivities may have stopped at the RK Studios but they surely continue elsewhere.

Today, Amitabh Bachchan seems to have inherited the Holi mantle. Stars now flock to Jalsa for a round of fun. Apart from the Bachchans, lyricist Javed Akhtar and actress Shabana Azmi are known to host gulal bashes.

Producer-director Sanjay Gupta has one of the biggest Holi get-togethers which registers the highest footfalls. Guests include top journalists, family friends and colleagues. Bhang often gets replaced with beer and snazzy cocktails at these bashes.

There are still certain elements of Holi that are part of the festivities all over the country.. for instance lighting of the bonfire, which signifies the triumph of good over evil. In Barsana and Brij in Uttar Pradesh, men resort to teasing women (in a light vein of course) and end up getting hit by them.. popularly known as lathmaar Holi. In case the celebrations go overboard, the police are called in to control the situation.

Food and fun
Holi is also a glutton's dream come true. In North India, guests are treated to delicately crafted gujiyas stuffed with an exotic combination of khoya, pistachio, chironji and cardamom. In Maharashtra, puran polis, made from gram flour, sugar or jaggery and crushed cardamom, are served.. hot from the tawa.. with dollops of ghee or dunked in milk.

The festival of colours is incomplete without the mention of bhang.. often mixed in thandai, available in plenty with local paanwallas. The intoxicant, which hits slower than alcohol in the beginning, knocks one off when it enters the system. It can keep one laughing or crying for hours.. anyone who’s had it would testify to that. Later, if the heady effect doesn’t wear off, biting off mango pickle is a great remedy.

Eco style
The option of playing it dirty or keeping it clean on Holi is one’s own but going desi and natural has become a mantra lately. A sizeable number of people are opting for chemical-free natural colours and Indian pichkaris, keeping the spirit of the festival intact. A tad expensive than the mica-laden chemical and much tamer than the wet pucca colours, these colours have more takers this year.

In Mumbai these colours are available at Bombay Stores, The Culture Shop (Powai), Dhoop (Khar), Green Ways, Carmichael Road in four colours, priced at Rs 200 per kg. Besides natural gulals, other sophisticated options available in the market include chandan pastes (Rs 30 for a small pack to Rs 200) which leave a cool trail on the skin. Other cooling pastes available include ones with peppermint (Rs 50 for 10 grams).