I used to be a Holi enthusiast in school; I simply loved Holi as a sport of running, ducking, springing surprise on one another with attacks of aabir or pichkiri and then of course the coming together of the adults and children; adults who relaxed their control over our movements on the day. But soon I grew to fear Dol, when neighbourhoods had new and unknown people from different communities and boys from the neighbouring slum also came and took over the streets where we played our colours. I realized that Dol is enjoyable in enclosed and safe places because it involved so much of touching and loosening of social rules of avoidance. It is a festival that involved embraces and hugs and intimate and unruly handlings and so it could also be a festival where girls and women became vulnerable and perhaps even boys and men, who knows? So, the camaraderie of dol is also about restraint, the nature of touch and the extent of reposing faith on the participants of the sport. Hence, in a sense, dol brings together but divides as well. Public conduct of all individuals makes or breaks Holi, whether it is a festival of friendship or of fiendish opportunism. So it is fine to fear Holi especially if you live among strangers or people with who you may not have a long continuity of life, whether in the past or in future. Reports of Holi violence now abound newspapers; Holi is now a festival that claims lives.
Muslims may have similar fears about Holi as above; being minorities and especially those who have had a conflictual relationship with the majority community. What they fear about Holi may be the same as the one I felt, or so many women and men feel. Perfectly legitimate. But what saddened me was a post from two Muslim boys, one from West Bengal and the other from Bangladesh who tried to say that spraying of colours was a Hindu imposition, and that too a Brahminic one. The problem is one of wrong labelling and of labelling. Firstly, Holi is not a Brahminic festival at all; Khatu Shyam, Dharma and Holika have no status in the Hindu pantheon; for long and indeed for very long indeed, Holi was not a religious festival, it was pagan and involved the community. Mughal Kings used this popular and participative festival into a court and official celebration. To give things a religious and hence a communally divisive flavour is a sign of a community seeking conflict, in search of quarrels and excuses to fight. In such matters, both Hindus and Muslims have their roles beyond the offender and victim labels. The fight in Holi is one between levels of civilization; exclude the less civilized ones, include the more civilized persons. Let Holi be graced with graciousness, that’s why, traditionally Holi would be drawn with all things secular, colours, bhang, sweets, songs and above all poetry and rhymes, composed by all, irrespective of the social status or class.