India is a land of vibrant and dynamic color; it abounds with bright yellow, orange, red and countless other shades. Today at Parada Pardadi we had our own tiny celebration of Holi. I am not sure of the exact origin of Holi but I know that it originated around a story about Krishna and Radha. People celebrate it by throwing different colored powder at each other.
We played Holi with students at Parada Pardadi. We began circled up in a large field; girls walked around giving us tilaks with pink, yellow and green powder. Slowly Holi powder began to get thrown and eventually an all out war fight started. I was soon covered from head to toe in pink, green and yellow powder. Willy and I began chasing the girls that did not want to get powder thrown at them. By the end of the festivities, I was out of breath and my hair and skin had turned pink. Everybody was happy and smiling from the powder fight. I was even grinning ear to ear as I tried to wash the stubborn color from by face and hair.
Holi left behind a kind of magical feeling that the colors of India also share. I think that even without a specific celebration, color is vital to Indian culture. The beautiful saris the women wear are a testament to this celebration of the rainbow. Even delivery trucks are painted with images of the different gods. On the bus ride to Agra I saw a bunch of brightly colored temples, homes and even advertisements. From the beautiful sheets sewn by girls at Parada Paradi to the vibrant colors in the markets of Delhi, color is a reflection of the energy and creativity of the Indian people. My pink stained skin and memories of Holi will stay with me as an integral part of my experience in India.
This morning we had a chance to spend time with the elementary and kindergarten students from Pardada Pardadi School. The students shared Coco with us. First of all, no, Coco is not a delicious warm chocolate drink here in India. Coco is an extremely competitive and strategic version of tag. The game is not complicated. However, because the kids were younger than us, and spoke very little English, understanding how to play proved to be very difficult. We started out lightly jogging and not trying hard, expecting to have an unfair advantage over the younger kids, but we soon found ourselves outmatched by the kids’ skill and strategy. Not only were we soon sweating and running hard, we often found ourselves being some of the first players tagged out. As we struggled to figure the game out, the students were nothing but patient and encouraging.
More than anything else, this experience has demolished barriers in my mind between my community and the communities we have interacted with in India. While miles and lifestyle may separate us, their schoolyard play is just as energetic and joyful as ours.
I woke up the morning of Holi and put on my new, white top; we had been assured that the actual Holi celebration would not start until 11:00 and we were supposed to dress nice for that morning’s’ classes. But, as we broke up into mixed groups of Pardata Paradati students and MMs students, I noticed Frisbees nearly filled with florescent shades of purple, yellow, and green powder. When I eyed these colors nervously I was assured it was only to mark my “third eye”.
Maybe twenty minutes later, my face looked like it had been smothered in rainbow sherbet, as Graydon aptly put it. Each kid, wanting to be the one to mark my face, had smeared the semi-permanent dye on my face. As my forehead filled up, the powder dripped down my nose, chin, and yes, my white shirt.
But that was only the beginning. After leaving that group to join a game of “steal the bacon” and dodge ball with Karina and some of the middle school kids, the kids became even less shy. It was so entertaining to try and throw the dodge ball at us, that no matter how many times we got out, the kids would come within minutes to pull us back into the center. They all clamored to hold my hand so that when the other team threw the ball I was left with a very small range of motion. At the end of the game, everyone was laughing and smiling, including the teacher, who secretly had brought out those colored Frisbees again. Her hands hidden behind her back, she came up to me and said, “Oh you are so beautiful!” before smearing her purple colored hands down my cheeks.
After this, the beginning round of Holi really began. Each student came up to me with colored hands to smear purple, green, and yellow on my face and neck. I chased them back making sure that each kid who had colored me had some sherbet on her cheeks.
And that was my introduction to Holi. While the “real” Holi came later, I think those beginning games were my favorite. It was so much fun playing and laughing with the students. They made each of us feel special and welcomed; it was absolutely worth the price of our stained shirts, dyed hair, and sherbet covered faces.