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Good Golly It's Holi!

Good Golly It's Holi!

March 28, 2010

Two Western children discover that not all holidays are for driving up mom's credit card balance.

I’ll be one of the first people to say that America really has no culture. Desperate Housewives and Starbucks do not a culture make. Even our holidays are really nothing more than excuses in mass consumerism, usually featuring lots of chocolate and sugar, and piles of toys. The only real differences between Halloween and Easter are that you have to go out on Halloween for your chocolate, and at Easter it’s delivered first thing in the morning, the better to ruin a peaceful sleeping-in by way of shrieking, messy, hyper children.

Now that my youngest child is officially no longer a toddler, I thought Holi might be a good experience for the family. The annual Holi at Stanford University seemed the perfect opportunity to broaden my children’s horizons beyond expectant holiday greed. The problem was my son, who is one of those kids that can’t stand to be dirty. If he so much as spills a drop of water on himself, it’s the occasion to change his entire outfit, down to socks and underwear.

I showed him Holi videos on YouTube. He started crying that he would be afraid and didn’t want to have color thrown on him. So much for preparation being the best way to handle a kid’s anxiety. I bribed him with the offer of a new water gun and promised I’d wear my gypsy skirt so he could wrap himself up in it and shoot people from under cover. After thinking about it for a short time he agreed to go.

We arrived early, and were among the first on the field, which gave me time to scope out the lie of the land, and my kids time to adjust to where we were. Then we spotted the tables where the colors were going to be distributed, and ended up hovering around, waiting for the fun to start.

Once the color started flying, my boy ran back to me screaming and dove into my skirt, much to the amusement of the woman I was chatting with. Soon, though, he got into the spirit of things and was running to the table and flinging powder every which way. Once he realized that he could actually get away with messing up adults there was no stopping him.

There was a moment in the melee where a beautiful woman in salwar kameez tenderly applied purple to both my cheeks, smiled at me and told me, “Happy Holi.” I felt like I was part of something for once, instead of just observing, or wondering when I could take my hyper, chocolate-ridden children home to clean them up and get them to come down off the sugar.

I tried to teach both my children to say “Holi hai!” My daughter got it, having my ear and talent for mimicry, but my boy is still having trouble with pronunciation of some English words and didn’t quite get it. “Holy huh?” he said.

“No, Holi hai!”

“Holy hen?”

“Close enough, dude.” Meanwhile I was trying to laugh with my mouth closed to keep the colors out, while I got the mental picture of a cosmic chicken sitting on a golden nest somewhere in orbit around Aldebaran, clucking contentedly at the festivities.

After a couple of hours, my boy had had enough and demanded we go right now! By then the field was full of thousands of people, and it was a good time to make our escape. We made our way back to the car against the incoming tide of clean people on their way to play Holi, with my son wishing them “Holy hen!” all the way.

After we’d changed into clean clothes, I asked the kids what they’d thought. My daughter said it was more fun than dyeing Easter eggs. My son insisted he’d not liked it at all. The photos say otherwise, however, and I can prove that he really did enjoy himself.

All in all we had a wonderful day. Attacking random strangers with colored powder and water guns is something you just can’t get away with usually. It was a very freeing experience for all of us.

By the time I’d gotten the kids scrubbed clean (well, clean-ish), had my shower and rinsed the clothes out, the bath looked rather like Jackson Pollock had murdered the Easter Bunny and used acid to dissolve the body in the tub.

As I rinsed away the last of the evidence, I smiled. Somewhere the Cosmic Chicken is clucking peacefully and all is well with the world.


    27.03.13 03:44 PM
    Happy holi to all the readers of this forum today.

  • bhaskar
    27.03.13 10:00 AM
    Awesome POST , superlike!!!
  • Nik
    23.02.13 02:43 AM
    I agree with you alright.

    I did enjoy Nikhils attempts at mental masturbation though. This seems to be a favorite past time of Indians who live abroad.
  • Alright
    19.06.12 05:44 PM
    In my opinion unless you're Hindu or by chance in India in the spring time you shouldn't be celebrating holi..
  • Monmi
    18.03.11 01:28 AM
    Loved reading it. And what a wonderful observation of how festivals are celebrated in India and in the US!! Few people have the ability to appreciate a culture that is different from theirs and then have the courage to experience it. I have never done it.
    I wouldn't agree with "America really has no culture". It's just that every country/culture has a different way of celebrating.
  • AM I A HINDU? International Best Seller
    AM I A HINDU? International Best Seller
    11.06.10 01:32 AM
    Gori, as a person coming from the South India [Kerala], where we do not celebarte Holi much, I find Holi a very lovable festival of colors.

    As you have stated, "....Attacking random strangers with colored powder and water guns is something you just can’t get away with usually..." makes Holi very intriguing as well as very special.

    Thanks for the post.
  • Nikhil
    31.03.10 07:16 AM
    @Gori Girl - But then hasn't mankind historically been driven by greed, consumption and materialistic pursuit (unfortunately!)? Why else did Britain and France colonize the entire world, why were there such tragic wars where millions lost their lives? Why single out America - it is just their turn in this century, like it was Europe's in the last, and they are making hay while the sun the next few decades the so-called embodiments of 'culture' - India and China will do the same thing - rape the world off its resources and go to any extent to garner more power. For generations mankind hasn't changed much has it?
  • Nikhil
    31.03.10 06:34 AM
    James - I do agree with you, which is why I said - it is sometimes rather off putting in its brazenness. But the fact is, it is a 'culture' the whole world is veering towards and brands/marketing to an extent mirror the cultural values of a society...I do not agree with your point that culture pertains only to history or tradition though - that would be like dwelling on the past. You can find a cultural ethos in the present as well (Europe for instance with its love for heritage and the arts, India with its very strong leaning towards spirituality)...Of course the present is shaped by the past and America is a reasonably modern society so it come without the baggage of centuries and centuries of history, and hence might seem shallow to people - but look at it the other way; that is perhaps why they are pioneers in so many fields, and also probably why their 'culture' is so easily malleable to the modern context.

    P.S - If I sound hopelessly pro-America, I promptly dismiss that presumption :-) But I am genuinely intrigued by this phenomenon called Americanization which everybody SO loves and SO loves to hate!
  • James Douglas
    James Douglas
    31.03.10 02:35 AM
    Interesting post and interesting comments!

    Nikhil; my opinion is that in the modern Western world (and beyond) consumerism and marketing is far too often mistaken for culture, hence your reference to fast food, commercial music, and brand names. Culture, to my mind, pertains more to historic importance and time honoured tradition. Any thoughts on this? America's strength in terms of a global presence is undeniable but whether American culture is as widely acknowledged as it could (and should) be is another matter altogether.

    Gori Girl (I like the pseudonym!); from the little I know of the US from one visit there, I'd have to agree. American culture to me is incredibly difficult to summarise, due in part to the huge influx of immigrants at the turn of the 20th Century, etcetera, that have contributed to making the US what it is today. Desperate Housewives and Starbucks are brands, good, successful brands with mass appeal, but nothing more. Any comments?
  • Gori Girl
    Gori Girl
    30.03.10 11:33 PM
    I see your point, but I'm loathe to call what we have "culture." Not in the sense that places like India, with thousands of years of human habitation, have.

    Whatever we have, it's based on shallowness, appearances and consumption more than community. Is it truly culture, or is it a facsimile of culture? There really isn't much deeper meaning in anything here, that hasn't come from somewhere else. The things that are uniquely American are flashy and glitzy but have no dimension.

    But I've noticed in this age of globalization that everyone thinks the grass is greener, the films are better, and life is more exciting, somewhere else.
  • Nikhil
    30.03.10 09:41 PM
    Interesting post! :-) It would however be a shame to say America has no culture, when in fact the entire world is on the brink of adopting American values, American fast food, American music, American brands etc etc etc...It is the most vivacious, most influential continent (some would say entertainment seeking, escapist - whatever!) when it comes to shaping the fabric of society...a lot of it is crass and vulgar, shallow even, but can we dismiss a culture that has influenced, and continues to influence so many generations at a time when the indigenous 'cultures' in other parts of the world are being wiped away by the wave of 'Americanization'?

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