Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Special Tourist's Holi, Jodhpur

It will probably take a week to completely get rid of all the clots of powdered color and wads of flower petals lodged in every crease of my skin and entwined in every strand of my techno color hair.

Each time I rinsed my hair and ran my fingers from my scalp outward, new bits of petals clung to my face and neck.

"All tourists sit down!" yells the stout fascist woman facilitating this special 'Tourist's Holi Festival.'

We sit as local notables are announced, stand, place their hands over their hearts, palms together, and bow.

"All tourists come forward to be welcomed," Saffron, as she later introduces herself to me, furrows her brows and indicates that Indian photographers should step to the back.

We continue to sit, not understanding what it is she requires of us.  She strides over to us and starts yanking us to our feet and pushing us toward the line up of brightly turbaned dignitaries waiting to place garlands of yellow, orange, and rust-colored marigold around our necks.

As the first garland is placed around the neck of blond-haired, blue-eyed young woman, the drumming starts.

Five young men surround one large flat circular drum.  One beats with a padded tom tom, others beat with sticks - the same primal beat that 's been pounding all through the narrow lanes of Brahmin-blue houses and havelies since yesterday.

Needless to say for those of you who know me , as soon as the drumming starts, my body responds, follows the impetus, and I start dancing.

When Madame Nazi Organizer spies me twirling my hands and hips Rajasthani gypsy style, she immediately rushes over, grabs my wrist, and pulls me in front of the dignitaries. She then extols the rest of the foreigners to "Come and dance!  All tourists come here and dance!"

The four young women from the Uk that I had met earlier in the day and agreed to meet at this happening, stand, and looking from one to the other, slowly make their way over to join me. The rest of the tourists follow suit.

After ten minutes the drumming stops and tourists are told once again: "All tourists sit down!"

A large group of Indian children scramble in front of the tourists and sit.  This seems to arouse the rancor of Saffron.  She yells at them and motions for them to move behind the tourists.  When they fail to respond, she starts grabbing them by their tiny arms, and to the horror of many of the young, new-aged Europeans, yanking them to the back. A group of Rajasthani gypsies appear, their musicians drumming on bendirs and tefs, one man playing a reed instrument similar to a zorna, and two women and two drummers singing. A slight adolescent boy takes center stage and performs an amazing belly dance - the coin belt around his slim hips jingling and janglih every which way. 

He's followed by a stout woman in yards of wide black skirt covered with mirrors and sequins and bright embroidery.  She performs back bends, picking up a one hundred rupee note in her teeth, then shakes and shimmies and twirls - her skirt flaring out around her.  Another woman - younger and slimmer, dressed in the same dazzling outfit joins the first and then of course, Madame Organizer once again rushes over to me, grabs me and pushes me to join them.

To the amazement of both women, I follow every move they do, and soon we're performing as a threesome.

"All tourists, stand, come forward, and dance!" announces Saffron.

When the area in front of the stage is filled with tourists, one man feeds piles of rose, marigold and daisy petals into the gaping mouth of a reverse vacuum cleaner, while another man points the hose upward. A shower of flower petals rain down on us: red, rust, orange, yellow, and white.  I raise my palms and face into the fragrant flower shower.

"Happy Holi!" yells Saffron into the mike.

The children grab fistfuls of petals from the ground and hurl them at one another and the tourists.

"Happy Holi," trumpets Saffron.  "It's color time!"

Instead of flower petals, bags of powdered, colored dye are poured into the blowing machine and it's raining pink, yellow, green, orange, blue and purple.  The air is filled with the perfumed dust of color.  Streams of color create rainbow arcs in the air.

The children go berserk.  They run to the bags of color, dig their hands in, and annoint the faces of everyone they can.  They take handfuls of brilliant powder and hurl it at each other and everyone around. 

Before my eyes people are transformed into a different species - a technicolor tribe of dancing, yelling, frolicking people.  Faces of purple and orange or green and pink.  Bodies splattered with blazes of color.  Hair thick with dayglow swabs.

The drumming grows more frenzied.  Color flies.

"Happy Holi!  Happy Holi!" everyone yells.

And all over India, people celebrate the vanquishing of the evil Holikar.  The world made safe for humans. 

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