Families have been stocking up on brightly colored powder for days. Vast rooftop squirt gun and water balloon arsenals have been assembled. Tonight is Phalguna Purnima, the full moon marking the vernal equinox. Happy Holi, the Hindu festival of colors!
You hear the drums before you emerge from the entryway of your haveli. No point in tiptoeing. Put on a brave face, step out into the street and surrender to the day. The first children to approach are both thrilled and nervous to see you looking so clean. With smiling eyes and a soft touch, they anoint your cheeks and forehead with your first streaks of color, announcing to the neighborhood that you are “playing Holi.”
Shopkeepers and other adults in various states of cleanliness all greet you warmly with “Happy Holi” as you pass. You turn the corner and, at the end of the alley, a merry band of water balloon-wielding kids awaits. Soaked and saturated, they foreshadow your immediate future. They have been playing Holi for hours, and resemble a friendly rainbow zombie horde as they approach and envelop you in a cloud of color.
Your face and torso are transformed again and again throughout the morning from emerald green to vivid marigold to blinding fusca. An especially riotous mob invites you to sit with them on the curb and cheer as a parade of technicolor scooter drivers goes by; each is greeted with splashes of water and fistfuls of fresh powder as they pass. No dog or cow is spared. A young man with an indigo face decorates you with silver sparkles. A small girl shyly approaches before sprinkling you with a vermillion powder that smells intoxicatingly of roses.
There is no point in attempting to wash your clothes. Bag them, bid them farewell, step into the shower and watch as each interaction from the day flows in a never-ending rainbow stream to the drain. There is no amount of scrubbing that will clean the magenta out of your toenails or the silver hairs at your temples. India has claimed you as one of its own and forbids you from taking yourself too seriously, at least for the next week.