Try thinking of Holi using what you saw in Hindi movies. You would only recollect flippant song sequences highlighting soaking wet young hero-heroine pairs. Quite a titillating entertainment, I guess, for sense-of-entertainment-challenged souls.
Or, come to think about it, even that conception of what people do in Holi is not bad entirely. A thought of a thing possess you if it is kept away from you through a taboo. Remove the taboo, and the thought loses its obsessive flavor. So, even the boy-gets-to-go-closer-to-a-girl type holi is not so bad, because when aggregated at a social level, it takes away the need to fantasize and makes far-away people a lot more real in one’s eyes. Obviously, at that close quarters, you get to see the girl along with her warts and mustache or beard.
Customary celebration of Holi- the way Holi is played is about much more than the juvenile wish to just get close to someone or touch that person under an excuse.
Holi used to be the day ruled by the only rule: that there were no rules. But rather than creating chaos, it worked as a cathartic arrangement. If there were no rules, in a society which otherwise never allowed people to forget their status and position, could put them off the hook for a while. In that moment of recess, a lot of bridges could be made, breaches could be made or repaired and help could be given to people who had sticks shoved high up their you-know-what-s.
It also meant that if the task or social arrangements forced someone to maintain distance from another, on the day of Holi the roles could be set aside and could even be reversed. People actually could get even – harmlessly and in a friendly way.
It also meant that if you did not eat with some people usually, on a day of Holi you would. The people who usually expected to be subordinates, could make a few demands on that day, and very lightheartedly, legitimately.
The ritual that would start with a play with colors, would change into serving of snacks and sitting together to eat. Those perennially in the role of submitting would today be served by the one who usually took from them. As a sequence it sometimes could be so bizarre that it would throw the usual caution, up-tightness and stiffness to wind and once off their usual put-on roles, people could find their lost selves albeit for a while.
That spark could very well travel back with people when they would carry on with the usual life the next day. This, done through a slew of celebrations, would restore a balance of democracy in a stiffly hierarchical society, would bridge the gap between generations and would break the ice.
Alas – that Holi, as I knew it is a thing of past. The good wishes remain, but without finding the next level. The contacts grow, but the people do not come together enough to know the minds of the others, to absorb from one another. Worse, many go away isolating themselves rather than mingling with others.
The playing remains at peer level. The sms wishes move a thousand times around the universe but they have no cathartic potential. And we remain encased in our bubbles, careful lest they should be burst, lest we should do something crazy, lest our skin carry a blot for a week and lest people judge you from that blot of color.
I really feel sorry for those who canvas against playing Holi with colors. Have they really thought about the subtle gift that celebrations like Holi bring? Or probably the correct question to ask is, do we really value those gifts anymore?