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Celebrating Holi With the Queen

I remember a park. Bottles of thandai. A long car ride. A winding dusty lane that seemed to go on forever. A gang of girls, wet, skimpily dressed, standing by the roadside, jiggling their tits at us and screaming, “Hey, HAPPY HOLI!” And the Frenchman driving us to the festival in his beat-up Ambassador saying, […]

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I remember a park. Bottles of thandai. A long car ride. A winding dusty lane that seemed to go on forever. A gang of girls, wet, skimpily dressed, standing by the roadside, jiggling their tits at us and screaming, “Hey, HAPPY HOLI!” And the Frenchman driving us to the festival in his beat-up Ambassador saying, “Where are we, man? Where are we?!”

We are at the Holi Cow Festival in Delhi. The farmhouse grounds are swarming with painted faces. In the far corner, people playfully wrestle each other in the mud, lie inert under the sprinklers like alligators. East India Company is up on the main stage performing its trademark folk-electronica. Further inside, more people with oversized water guns, a swimming pool filled with pink water. Corpse-like figures float on the water, then suddenly leap out at you, these crazy beautiful Holi revellers, their white teeth bared like monsters.

This is also where the second stage is. Teddy Boy Kill is doing a killer set, slightly eerie, sometimes dramatic, but always pumping swollen beats into the smoky-sweet air. “This is an antiestablishment song,” declares Toymob (vocalist Ashhar Farooqui), “Fuck the police, fuck the army.” More people fling themselves into the pink water of the pool. Others dance frantically in front of the speakers, stand still and look out at the world from behind oversized sunglasses, think about ways of keeping their OCB dry. There are zombies like me, gliding from one corner to another, restless, unable to stand still, driven by the love drug and the urge to love.

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By evening, people have collapsed in groups all over the front lawn. Cellphones have become wet and stopped working, someone has lost his keys, someone else is playing catch-catch with her daughter. There’s no drinking water and people are staring at the sky and praying for rain. Some are digging in the big iceboxes meant to chill soft drinks. They are scooping out the ice and passing it around filled in Styrofoam cups.

We are like refugees, camped out in the open, some of us inside white tents, thirsty, hungry, shivering in our damp clothes, but refusing to leave. There is a bunch of kids on the main stage (DJ MoCity/AX/VIVON/B-boy Root), rapping, scratching, mixing, trying to get the exhausted crowd going. There is a rumour doing the rounds that food, water and cigarettes are on the way. I’m expecting a helicopter to airdrop packets when the bouncers walk in with armloads of the stuff. Cries of joy rent the air.

In the middle of this tribal gathering of music lovers and Holi revellers, sits an old lady. She owns the farmhouse. She looks calm, serene, regal. Alert eyes dart out from under her sparrow-like face, not missing a single shade of colour. Her impassiveness provides the perfect foil to the rough and tumble of Holi madness. She sits there in the dying March sun, looking like a once-tyrannical queen who had banished Holi celebrations from her kingdom for many decades. Today she has relented. She has finally allowed her courtiers to throw colour and bang drums and have guests over. But why this year? Is it because she has softened over the years and her heart has healed? Or is it the other way round: that she doesn’t care anymore?

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