Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Good Friday - Holi, Holi, Holi

The streets of Kolkata were eerily quiet as my taxi sped into town from the airport. Empty streets, boarded-up stalls, only the occasional pedestrian: was this ghost town really the city I remembered from '94 as a seething mass of humanity?

Well, yes. Except that I'd arrived on the day of Holi - the North Indian festival celebrating the end of winter. By odd (auspicious?) coincidence, it was also Good Friday.

Holi is celebrated by the throwing of coloured waters and powders. It's a bit like Marmite: you either love it or you hate it. My taxi driver, furiously winding up his window and begging me to do likewise, was clearly a 'hate it'.

The 'love it' faction are easy to spot. It's the purple faces, strange-coloured clothes and pink feet that give them away for days afterwards.

Downtown in Chowringhee, the sounds of drums and chants of 'Holi Holi Holi' could be heard down the far end of the street.

"You don't want to go down there - they'll have you" said one man as I bought a bottle of water and handed over my money. A green hand passed the change back to me.

"Mind you", the man continued cheerfully, "We're not supposed to be happy today. We have a church service at 1.30pm".

My afternoon nap was disturbed by a knock on my door. I opened it and was met by two men. One stuck a finger into a box of red powder, daubed it across my forehead, then bent down and did the same to my feet. The other requested Rs20 from me. It seemed a fair price to go back to sleep. I paid up.

Later on, I ventured out onto the streets. The road had a large red patch that hadn't been there earlier. Lying next to it, his head down on his paws, was a sad-looking dog. He wore a sorry expression on his face and a pink streak of paint that ran up from his nose and along his back.

And to think that I thought dyeing eggs was exciting.


(Approximately 2.3% of India's population practices some form of Christianity. This may not sound much but, with the total population at somewhere over 1 billion, this numbers the Christians at a shade over 23 million)

Words and Pictures © 2008 Louise Heal

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