How do you celebrate Holi in the middle of a drought?

The World
Men dance as others spray colored powder on them during Holi celebrations in India.

Men dance as others spray colored powder on them during Holi celebrations in India.

Jitendra Prakash

Today is Holi, the festival that Indian communities around the world celebrate to mark the beginning of spring. Mumbai-based reporter Chhavi Sachdev wrote this essay after celebrating a "dry" Holi this year as authorities asked  residents to spare water during the country's crippling drought. 

I played Holi this year for only the second time in two decades. And the fact that it was declared a “dry” Holi has everything to do with it.

Holi is the festival of color, and I’m fine with that. People greet each other with fistfuls of dry colored powder and take perverse pleasure in rubbing it on each other’s faces. What’s not to love?

People pose for a selfie while celebrating Holi in India.

People pose for a selfie while celebrating Holi in India.

Credit:

Shailesh Andrade

What I don’t love is that it’s also the festival of water. For some, OK most, people, the fun of Holi is about being soaked by friends and drenching each other with super soakers, water guns, water balloons and, in a pinch, buckets of water. In Mumbai, there are apartment complexes that rig up outdoor sprinkler shower systems for rain dances.

I’ve always hated it.

As a kid in New Delhi, Holi meant spring had officially begun, but winter wasn’t truly over. It was chilly and sometimes even foggy. I would have happily stayed in, warm and dry, but my mother believed I was becoming too much of a bookworm and kicked me out to join the neighborhood kids. I’d get pelted with water balloons, and then shrieking, take revenge. 

A boy stands as others throw colored powder on him during Holi celebrations.

A boy stands as others throw colored powder on him during Holi celebrations.

Credit:

Shailesh Andrade

For a few minutes, it was fun, and then the cold would set in and I’d have to endure the rest of the water fight, shivering. Once I became an adult, it was easy to make excuses. 

Men dance during Holi celebrations.

Men dance during Holi celebrations.

Credit:

Rupak De Chowdhuri

This year, we’re in the middle of a drought. Mumbai, where I live, is the capital of the state of Maharashtra, where water is severely scarce. Our reservoirs are low, villages are parched and farmers are reeling because their crops are failing.

While the rest of the country has been celebrating as they usually do, our state’s chief minister appealed to citizens to conserve water.

Water suppliers were forbidden to deliver tankers for Holi rain dances. And apartment complexes issued statements saying they would fine families that brought down water buckets and guns. 

A girl reacts as others apply colored powder on her face during Holi.

A girl reacts as others apply colored powder on her face during Holi.

Credit:

Shailesh Andrade

People groused a little, but everyone I know eventually complied with the directive. My friends, thankfully, took it in stride. So, we had a “dry” Holi, where we made up for it being a "dry day" by serving up vodka, beer and our other Holi staple: Bhang.

Today’s dry Holi was fun, but I’ve never had so much gulal powder (albeit organic) sit on me for so long. Normally, the powder and the water come in cycles: new people join the group, fresh powder is spattered on, and then the dousing washes it off.  Rinse, repeat. For the first time, I feel like I was dry marinated in it. I’m still trying to scrub maroon off my forehead and blue off my chin.

And next year, when the water situation is (I hope) better, I’ll remember this and stay home to read my book.