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Happy Holi!

Started: 2011-04-27 08:23:45

Submitted: 2011-04-27 09:07:15

Visibility: World-readable

Holi is an Indian spring festival normally celebrated on a lunar calendar in late February or early March. That date works fine as the advent of spring for the tropical and subtropical Indian subcontinent, but doesn't work so well for temperate continental climates like the one I live in, as early March increases the likelihood of snow on the ground. As a result, my employer's sizable Indian diaspora celebrates Holi much later, in late April, and invited the rest of the company to join them.

Last Saturday, I looked out the window when I got up and was surprised to see a light dusting of snow on the ground and large flakes falling, apparently challenging my assertion that late April was a better time to celebrate Holi. The snow melted quickly but the weather remained gray for much of the morning. I drove to Boulder, picked up a laminated National Geographic wall map of China at the Boulder Map Gallery (dodging the crowd at the farmer's market on the street in front), and noted with amusement that the cartographers chose to render both the island of Formosa (otherwise known as Taiwan, the Republic of China) and mainline China (the People's Republic of China) in the same color. Neither government will complain, since both believe they are the legitimate government of a united China, but it doesn't strictly reflect the reality on the ground. (China's disputed border with India is marked to reflect the actual extent of control, with China in possession of Askai Chin and India in possession of Arnachal Pradesh up to the McMahon Line.) With the focus of my research turning to China, I needed a big map to turn back to and figure out what was where.

I showed up for my employer's Holi celebration and watched a talent show featuring not-especially-Indian music (including an acoustic guitar converted into an ad-hoc sitar by clamping the strings halfway down the neck) followed by an Indian dance to recorded Bollywood music. (I don't actually know enough about Hindi to spot it in a crowd but I presumed they must be singing in Hindi.) A sizable snack followed the talent show, with veg samosas and chana chaat -- chips mixed with garbanzos and covered with yogurt, mint chutney, sweet chutney, and (optionally) chili powder. I hadn't previously experienced chaat and, like many of my experiences with new food Indian foods, I was enthralled and wanted more.

(My last major discovery in Indian cuisine -- dosas -- encouraged Kiesa to start experimenting at home, despite lacking a proper griddle to prepare the giant crepe on. She's made a couple of valiant efforts with her cast iron skillet, and last Friday night Calvin asked for "more dosa", which I took to be a good sign of his cultural development. I didn't even know what dosas were when I was 2 (let alone 20), so he's already ahead of me.)

Kiesa and Calvin showed up while the food was being served. Calvin was not especially impressed by most of the food but did like the samosas. The culmination of the Holi celebration was the throwing of colors -- taking brightly-colored powders (with the approximate texture of corn starch or powdered sugar) and throwing them at each other. A section of the parking lot was marked off for this purpose, with a couple of folding tables set up in the middle and stocked with bins of colored Holi powders. (I got the impression they were manufactured and packaged expressly for this purpose.) I brought a change of clothes specifically for this purpose (which I'd previously used to stain my deck) and (once I decided I really did want to play with the colors) took Calvin into the nearby locker room to change. We emerged to find the color-throwing underway, so I carried Calvin into the fray, grabbed a handful of colored powder, and started hunting down coworkers to douse.

Jaeger and Calvin celebrating Holi
Jaeger and Calvin celebrating Holi

Calvin wasn't quite sure what to make of the spectacle (for that matter, neither was I); he ended up lightly colored by the time I decided to pull him out and leave him with Kiesa while I went back to collect more color.

Jaeger and Calvin after Holi
Jaeger and Calvin after Holi

I ended up totally covered in colored powder, though not to the extent of my Indian coworkers, who collected so much color that the color mixed together and turned brown. I couldn't always identify my coworkers covered in powder, let alone identify their ethnicity.

Jaeger and Calvin after Holi
Jaeger and Calvin after Holi
Jaeger and Calvin in the post-Holi crowd
Jaeger and Calvin in the post-Holi crowd

As the party abated, my next task was to clean up. I brought a change of clothes but forgot to bring a towel, so I wasn't able to use the showers to clean myself but had to settle for changing my clothes and wiping myself clean. I showered completely when I got home, and threw all of my clothes in the laundry, getting smudges of Holi colors in the shower and washing machine. Holi was great fun, and now Calvin and I have celebrated an Indian festival that Willy hasn't.

Calvin after Holi
Calvin after Holi
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