We stopped playing with colors more than 25 years ago because of a mishap that occurred in our family on the day of Holi. I have no memory of a fun-filled Holi before the mishap, as I was too young to remember. Growing up, I would put on a grumpy face on the day of Holi, and be glued to the window railings for hours to witness a colorful riot in which kids and adults participated with equal vigor and joy. I would find myself conflicted between a half-baked understanding of the colorless Holi tradition at home, and a “childish” fear of missing out on the playful experience.
Come lunch-time, my mood would be elevated by the thought of mouth watering delicacies made by mum. What attracted me to food on festive days, were the subtle differences from regular day food and its ability to psychologically influence and impress difficult-to-please people like me.
On festive days, mum would work magic. She would use ordinary ingredients, but from a specially reserved store, rely on whole spices and home – made fresh “desi ghee” (clarified butter) and avoid onion and garlic (for religious reasons). She would then lay beautifully atop a lush green banana leaf, a colorful medley of dishes- each dish visually appealing, accompanied by an intoxicating aroma – that would push back my aforementioned conflict into oblivion. I would scrape off every bit of the delicious and colorful spread clean with my hands, and lick my fingers in the end (If I were a cow, I would not spare the banana leaf!).
Each year, the lack of Holi color on my body would be more than compensated for by the riot of colors on my plate (or banana leaf). There would be pink pulao – owing to beetroots, yellow dal – plain and simple with a generous topping of ghee, green saag – amaranth-like leaves lightly sauteed, white coconut raita – fresh desiccated coconut flakes mixed with yogurt, sometimes accompanied with chopped tomatoes that lend some tang, seasoned with green chilies, salt, and garnished with cilantro, brown ghanta – a quintessential Odiya dish that is a medley of (mostly) root vegetables, and some lentils (each household has its own choice), infused with whole spices and a strongly aromatic cumin-dried red chili spice blend.
I eventually did grow out of my grumpiness and embraced the traditions. The sacrifice of a celebration by no means meant a sacrifice of colors. It rather meant honoring our loved ones – those amidst us, and those not. For love is vibrant!
As far as the significance and power of colors in life is concerned, I stand by this quote – “Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.” ~ Oscar Wilde
I hope each of you had a colorful Holi, and wish each of you have a colorful life always!