NEW YORK – After the ban of firecrackers this past Diwali, it’s now the turn of the festival of Holi to be stripped away of its key revelry by authorities in Delhi: a news report on March 2 said cops in Delhi would hold responsible the parents of children who perpetrate the ‘egregious’ act of throwing a water-filled balloon. Imagine that: a 5-year-old child throws a balloon. Complaint lodged. Parents get charged with assault.
The Times of India reported prohibitory orders were issued to dissuade motorcyclists riding with balloons and pichkaris; people making a din on roads despite objections of local residents will be booked.
To take away the fun, excitement of lighting firecrackers on Diwali; joy of tossing a water-filled balloon, drench a stranger, on Holi, is akin to praising a lotus flower after stripping it of its petals.
Hindu festivals in India are slowly being sanitized beyond redemption. Diminished of vitality. Shorn of joy and camaraderie. Misgivings, anger, confusion and confrontations are coloring Holi, become new, heinous avatars of gulal.
The red, blue, yellow, and green colors of gulal, with its connotations of love and fertility, devotion to Lord Krishna, turmeric, and the onset of Spring, also ushered in this year barbaric violence, filthy ways to debase and humiliate women, in the capital of India.
The significance of the mythology of the child Prahlad surviving the murderous attempt by the demoness Holika, the triumph of good over evil, was twisted in macabre fashion on the streets of Delhi. Evil triumphed over good, innocence brutally trampled over.
Scroll reported a group of 20 men stabbed and beat up a young man with iron rods in Delhi’s Khanpur locality, for saving a boy from being punished for throwing water balloons at two of the culprits. The victim was admitted to hospital in critical condition with at least 50 stab wounds.
If that courageous young man with a conscience, who tried to save the boy from harm, was the avatar of Lord Vishnu, he did succeed in his mission: he saved the boy, perhaps an avatar of Prahlad.
Young women and girls in Delhi were mortified this year after reports surfaced of water balloons mixed with body fluids, like semen and urine, being hurled by some miscreants. The spirit of Holi vanished for them. Instead, protests emanated on college campuses against harassment.
To top it all, Holi celebrations were called off at Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence, reported India Today, to protest the on-going sealing drive, which he claimed has hurt businesses and workers.
CNN noted in a report on Holi that the festival is “the bold image of India most often seen in ad campaigns, films and music videos,” adding, “people coming together from all walks of life to sing, dance and splash their friends and family with colored powder and water.”
What, perhaps, all the glamorous, colorful photos and videos from Holi in India gloss over is the increasing insecurity of revelry in society, heightened element of risk. The threat to peace, perception of harmony turning into chaos at a moment’s notice, takes away the sheen of festivities.
Not to talk of the loss of intrinsic value of festivals like Diwali and Holi which is fading away for young children in Delhi, who will perhaps, never get the thrill of lighting a firecracker, or play with friends hurling water balloons at each other.
Growing up in Delhi, one of my greatest joys was during the festival days: getting up early in the morning to fill water balloons, to celebrate Holi; buy firecrackers and light them with friends, on Diwali. They form some of my strongest, indelible memories of Delhi.
I’ve heard many NRIs complain that it’s not quite the same to celebrate Diwali in New York, days or even a month after it’s done with in India, or to go to a Holi mela, in New Jersey, or Texas, at a ‘convenient’ date (read weekend). I too thought the same.
Perhaps, it’s time to recognize that to really reminisce about Diwali – especially for those NRIs who grew up in Delhi – it might be best to watch fireworks light up the sky at the South Street Seaport, in Manhattan, or buy fireworks from Costco and light it up with children in one’s backyard.
Or, to celebrate Holi like in the good old days – play with water balloons and gulal, see the burst of laughter and joy on a child’s face, at a Holi mela in New Jersey.
It’s fun. And importantly, safer.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)