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Saturday, June 3, 2023

The Holi affair: Hooliganism or assault on Hindu festivals?

We all know, going by the growth rate of our population, how horny and fertile Indians are. But a question that has been intriguing me is how do you fill a balloon with semen? This may sound like a bizarre, not to mention inappropriate, question to ask in an edit page column, but since the matter has been discussed on national television in addition to mainstream print and digital media, I might be excused. Going by the screaming headline on the website of a leading newsmagazine, the question is not how to fill one — but several — balloons with semen. For the headline blazoned: “It’s Raining Semen-Filled Balloons On Women In Delhi.”

The origin of the story was an Instagram post by a student of Lady Shriram College complaining that such a balloon was hurled at her outside her college. Soon there was another post, this time on Facebook, by a student of Jesus and Mary College, (JMC) reported in newspapers. She was in a bus near Sagarpur colony when some boys threw the aforementioned missile at her: “Before I even realized it, a guy threw a balloon filled with semen straight at my chest. … I was DISGUSTED and really furious. And that’s when a lady sitting in front of me said, ‘Beta, Bura mat mano Holi hai.’ … I didn’t know whom to be more disgusted on — the idiot who threw it or the crowd who normalised it.”

I’m as outraged and repelled as the victim, but still have a few questions. How did she recognize what was in the balloon? Was it tested in a lab? Incidentally, that might be one sure way to identify the culprit(s). Just think: Wouldn’t it take a lot of semen to fill up a whole balloon? Wouldn’t it take the concerted action and cooperation of several young men to manage that? Else, was the balloon filled largely with water, admixed with semen? Wouldn’t even that somewhat more plausible upshot be not easy to pull off, fill up, pass off, and misdirect?

Again, to be somewhat more explicit that I wish, quite a few young men would need to jerk off in a bucket, then fill that fluid into a balloon. None of this sounds anything short of shockingly revolting in addition to onerous and cumbersome. We must not therefore fail to ask how true it is or at least how frequent — is it enough to make national headlines, launch debates and protests against the festival?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not excusing the hooliganism that passes for Holi. Every year, we have cases of chedkhani, ranging from largely harmless banter to molestation to outright rape. Should this be condoned in the name of our festival of colours? Certainly not. But, on the other hand, should we demonise this wonderful spring celebration so unique to India, thereby succumbing to our killjoy modernizers and missionaries hell-bent on subverting, distorting, and eventually destroying our “pagan” celebration of life?

Let’s face it, whether it’s Jallikattu or Janmashtami, Holi or Diwali, Ramnavami or Shivaratri, Ganesh Chathurthi or Durga Puja—all our festivals are under attack. Some for being polluting, others for being environmentally unfriendly; some because they are noisy, others because they are politically incorrect; some are criticized for being immoral, others for being violent. One is almost sure that before any major festival there will be some sensational occurrence, event, or headline which be the pretext to start yet another round of debates on bans, curtailments, and prohibitions.

But these assaults on Hindu festivities are also curbs on rasa, the very juice and joy of life. Indeed, one can hardly choose a better occasion to discuss life-affirming relish than Holi, which is observed each year on Phalgun Purnima. This ancient spring festival celebrated all over India is marked by the burning of the effigy of all impurities, depicted in the story of Prahlad and Holika, before one welcomes one’s own and others’ renewal with a frenzy of colour, song, dance, and, often times, intoxication. Holi is the rite of the victory of spring over winter, or eros over thanatos, depicted in the frolic of Krishna with his playmates, the Gopis of Vrindavan. In Manipur it is celebrated for five or six days.

Holi is also a carnival of transgression and subversion, erasing class and gender differences, upturning hierarchies, creating playful disorder, and above all, in lots of amusement and mischief. The relish of the festival lies in fun, frolic, eating, drinking, and socialising. Similarly every festival in India must be enjoyed with a sense of participatory delight or rasa, so rich in connotation, so life-affirming. From this perspective, Holi does not degrade as much as elevate us.

Let us celebrate it joyously, but responsibly.

– Makarand R Paranjape 

This article was originally published on dnaindia.com. It is being reproduced with the author’s consent.

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Makarand R Paranjape
Makarand R Paranjape
The author is a poet, and Professor of English, JNU


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