Holi Day Bash
And bashed we were – under an onslaught of wild Indian fists punching and pounding for no apparent reason, but let’s start at the beginning and hear the story from both our perspectives.
TONY: Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, is a celebration in Northern India where people say goodbye to the winter and embrace the coming spring in all its colors. Many people may have seen the well known National Geographic coverage of Holi showing Indians dancing in celebration and throwing colorful powders and dyes on anyone walking nearby. It was these spectacular pictures which motivated me to join in the Holi celebrations.
Dressed in disposable clothing, I quickly joined in with the crowds. Standing at the edge of the square, Thomas had decided to watch the whole spectacle from a safe distance. As I entered the crowd of dancing Indian men, people began to smear purple over my face and arms. Hands appeared from nowhere adding green and blue and pink. I was covered in color.
The wild Indian trance music had worked everyone up into a frenzy. Powder and paint were flying in all direction – and inevitably ended up in my eyes. As I was clearing my eyes, somebody started to tear my shirt off, which caught me a little off guard, and annoyed me because I had wanted to keep the shirt for hiking. But clearly, ripping shirts off was the norm as pieces of cloth were flying in all directions and a bear chest provided more body canvas for the paint. Just go with the flow, I thought.
People, Indian and foreign, were dancing and laughing and having an incredible time. Instinctively, I turned to see what Thomas was doing. I scanned the square – and, suddenly, I caught sight of three or four Indian men beating the crap out of him!
THOMAS: I’m the kind of person who airs on the side of caution. After I heard that people had suffered from allergic reactions or eye damage from the colored powder during previous Holi celebrations, I decided to keep my face a colorfree zone. At least I thought I’d try. I actually made it to the square with only my arms, legs and my left ear gleaming in gold and purple, and was standing at one of the many restaurants surrounding the town square watching the scene.
Just as I was wondering what had happened to Tony’s hiking shirt, four muscle-packed Indian men came storming towards me and pushed me into a corner. Arms and hands all around me, they were trying to cover me quite forcefully with powder, while I was doing my best to keep them at arm’s length. My attempts to reason with them were only greeted with raging unexplainable anger and when I saw the biggest of them clench his fist, I had just enough time to turn my head and avoid a knuckle-to-nose collision. Instead, he struck me full force on the back of my head.
Damn, I had never been hit – that really hurt! What just happened? Only because I didn’t want dye on me? Well, excuse me. I didn’t know I had two choices, and two choices only – paint or pain. How ironic is it that I tried to keep the dye off my face because I was afraid I’d get injured.
Things progressed quickly from there. As I was trying to get out of their collective grip, Tony came running to my rescue and jumped on the guys. The big one followed Tony into the crowd while the others, somewhat distracted without their ringleader, lost their hold on me. I managed to slip out of the corner and on to the street but not without receiving another hard blow to the back of my head,
TONY: The guys who were attacking Thomas seemed out of control, crazy with rage. Three of them had cornered him and a fourth, a bizarrely overdeveloped gym-freak who held himself like an ape (very unusual body type in India), was pounding on Thomas’ head and back. I had no idea what had happened or why Thomas was being attacked, but I ran over to them and pulled the ape-man off of him. Outraged at being interrupted, the man-beast clenched his fists and lunged at me. Other young Indian men seem to be running in our direction, and from the expressions on their faces, it looked as though they wanted to join the fight.
For one instant, I had an excellent opportunity to kick the guy in the crotch and shut the monster down, but fearful of the growing mass of Indian men running towards us and how they might react, I decided to run for it instead. The ape-man followed closely behind trying to catch me, but being shirtless covered in dye and powder, it was like trying to catch a greased pig. He managed to hit me quite hard in the back of the head and repeatedly on my back, but I was so hyped with adrenaline I didn’t really feel anything until later. As I leapt through the crowd up on to a restaurant porch, an older Indian man started screaming at the gym-freak in Hindi. Whatever he said gave me a few seconds to shoot through the crowd and locate Thomas, who had just managed to break away from his attackers. We both headed straight for the police station.
Not fully understanding why Thomas had been attacked or why there had suddenly been so many other Indian men who appeared to want in on the fight, we were afraid that this was some kind of anti-foreign sentiment that was coming to head. Knowing that there were dozens of other foreigners who had been dancing in the square, we were afraid that some of them were being attacked at that very moment. This was why we decided to head straight for the police.
After two months in India, we are fully aware of the fact that the police are pretty much useless. In addition to our own personal experiences with the police, the newspapers are filled with stories of police corruption. The articles often discuss how cover-ups or inaction are most frequent when a non-Hindu accuses a Hindu. (Evidently, many in law enforcement feel it is their divine duty to protect Hindus before enforcing the law.)
But I have to admit, I thought they might do something, at least walk back and check if other foreigners were being attacked. But, instead, they sat on their asses, smiled, and did nothing.
THOMAS: Tony was mad. He was outraged at the police who probably thought we were overreacting. I was strangely disconnected and void of emotion. Why should I be angry? I have no expectations out of Indians. I didn’t expect any action from the police, and I wasn’t surprised by the lack of understanding from everyone around us.
I think, you only feel rage if you assume you are going to be treated a certain way but then you aren’t. To me, this was just the kind of behavior towards foreign visitors I expect Indians to display. Idealistic Tony, however, may have expected “normal” reactions and to be treated like a human being. But there is no such thing in India. We are not humans, we are wandering money bags. Give me, give me, give me. If you think I sound bitter, it is because I am.
After two months of dealing with Indian scams and hostilities, I have become shielded and, unlike Tony, hardly engage in conversation with locals anymore. If I do, nine out of ten times these conversations end in a demand for money. Many times I ignore Indians when they are talking to me or simple say, “No, thank you.” Other times, I’m more direct and say, ” I don’t want to talk to you.” The response I often get from Indians trying to distinguish themselves is, “Not all fingers are the same.” Then they ask me to buy something.
You know what, I’ve heard enough. Looking around, all I can see right now is thumbs, or, perhaps, middle fingers.