Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Holi Hai! Holi Hai!- The Carnivalesque Festivities - published in The Hindu 19/02/17

Holi Hai! Holi Hai!- The Carnivalesque Festivities

Does one know of any other festival in the world where the celebrators repeatedly and vociferously assert that it is, it is; and, that one should not mind it- ‘Holi Hai? Holi Hai! Buraa na mano Holi hai!’ Why this refrain, I used to wonder? Observing groups of revelers it suddenly struck. With painted faces they all give two hoots to the world. Decent young persons who would not allow a speck of dirt on their clothes or, would not bear a strand of hair out of place (and if it’s ever so, it’s deliberate, mind you!); ladies, who won’t bear the wind and the Sun rob the skin of its fair hue; middle aged people, worrying constantly of the falling standards in manners and; the aged, ruing over the lost gleam of their days, all give a boot to everyday norms.  Profanities rend the air as the merry makers go round the town exhorting everybody to splatter them with colours. Self-professed teetotalers are convinced by die-hard tipplers that a sip on this day does not amount to ‘drinking’; and many do get convinced as the festival’s spirit commands it. Partaking ‘bhaang’, of course, takes less of a cajoling as, unlike alcohol, it has had cultural sanctions! If mutton and chicken are for the non-vegetarians, the spicy katahal (jackfruit) curry becomes a vicarious pleasure for the veggies. Two riders on a two-wheeler and four on a four-wheeler may be the traffic rule; this day however has its own- the limit being the number the vehicle can carry without toppling over. As the groups of revelers amble along, absolute strangers neck each other and the young bend to touch the feet of the old, the norms of social differences of class and caste get forgotten. The fear of calories is put at bay as the delicacies get devoured by the most health conscious. The spirit of defying the customary is throughout. If the lathi wielding ladies in Barsana break the gender norm, Varanasi’s (in)famous Assi Ghat Kavi Sammelan, where crass Hindi expletives are used in poetry,  can be taken as subversion of the social, political and, language norms.
        Bakhtin gave the concept of the carnivalesque in literature. Isn’t this festival a social- carnival where social hierarchies of everyday life—their solemnities and pieties and etiquettes, as well as all ready-made truths—are profaned and overturned by normally suppressed voices and energies? Or, should we ask, wasn’t this festival meant to be so- i.e. providing a space to the non-privileged by shifting the authoritative norms of the hegemony and its ‘high culture’ to the margins for a short period of celebration- because lately it has changed its colour.  The growth of modern privatized individualistic worlds, perhaps, is leading to jealousies and a disbelief in the other, fun is yielding place to unpleasant jibes, and therefore, celebration for some metamorphoses into perversion sometimes.     
          Holi is the time when man and nature alike throw off the gloom of winter and rejoice in the colours and liveliness of spring. The strictness of the social structure- age, sex, status and caste- is loosened.  The chant of Holi Hai! Holi Hai, perhaps, is to urge everybody to disremember the social divisions of hierarchy in all its forms and let playfulness reign. It has to be repeated so frequently to give a jerk to our mind routinized in the rest of the 364 days of the year. So, let’s throw the taboos to the wind – the restrictions of status, language, age and, of course, the calories- at least for this one day and with pure fun in heart shout without inhibition - Holi Hai! Holi Hai! Buraa na mano Holi hai!

                                                                         Dr Skand Shukla