So many cultures, so many ways of welcoming Spring.
I have been fascinated by festivals and holidays around the world ever since I was a child. I first read about the Hindu spring festival of Holi in a magazine and immediately made it a life goal to participate in a Holi Colour Fight.
It wasn't until much later that I found out about the grisly origins of the festival. Thank you, Amar Chitra Katha comics, you always present horrific stories of homicide attempts and mass deaths in such a palatable manner.
I know of one or two temples in Malaysia that observe Holi and invite outsiders to participate in the revelry, but their timing always seem to clash with mine. It's almost always the same weekend as our Malaysian Nature Society's annual Raptor Watch. And so I had to miss the Holi celebrations each year.
Last month, however, while exploring and cleaning up the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve with my friend Cat, she proposed throwing our own Holi party and proceeded to create a Facebook event on the same the very next day. Within hours, over 150 friends were invited and over 20 replied that they would be attending. Well, there was no turning back or backing out then. We were going to throw our own Holi party.
We hadn't considered how difficult it would be to find Holi powder in Malaysia. Cat asked around and finally found a shop in Brickfields, New Malliga, that sold Holi powder. I made some of my own as well using cornflour, food colouring and salt (to prevent the dough from turning mouldy prior to drying out). The store-bought Holi powder was more like Rangoli powder and didn't form powdery cloudbursts like those seen in travel magazine photos, so we experimented again and mixed the coloured powders with wheat flour until we got the colour intensity and cloudburst effect that we want.
I wanted to make sure it was a green and low-waste party, so I brought biodegradable rubbish bags for litter and reusable bowls to put the coloured powders in. These are ice cream bowls from one of CovertMum's birthday potluck parties years ago. I can wash and reuse these for many more years to come. We didn't use any balloons, styrofoam cups or other disposables during the party. Everything was either reused or recycled.
I sent out reminders for the party guests to wear white t-shirts and old clothes that they didn't mind getting dirtied, and bring rubbish bags to line their car seats with and water to clean themselves up with. We had breakfast with some of those who arrived early for the party.
After breakfast, we adjourned to the large park up the street from my bachelor pad. I chose this park because guests can then walk over to my house to clean themselves up or shower after the colour fight. I volunteer at the Recycling Centre here and clean up this park regularly.
Adrian, Sharon and I cleaned up the park to ensure it is nice and tidy even before we began.
Brynn, Pippa, Cat and some of the others helped to mix colours.
The other party guests soon arrived and excitement started to build up, especially when Cat started playing Bollywood dance music on her little stereo. We introduced ourselves and made new friends.
Don't we all look nice and neat in our white shirts before the colour fight!
At the word "Go", we went crazy with the coloured powders.
Would-be escapees were brought back into the battle zone to be punished with colours.
Adrian, the self-proclaimed evil overlord of coloured powders, terrorised bigger opponents.
Jackson Pollock would have been so proud of us.
The Gingerbeard Boys!
Shyam and I attempt a Sonic Boom.
Not an inch of white tee was spared. We changed colours, like human gobstoppers. We had layers upon layers of coloured powder on us. It was fantastic.
Such happy hooligans! So hard to believe that we started out all clean and white.
Everyone had to help with the tidying up.
We cleaned up the park and left it in a better state than before the colour fight.
It was two hours of insanity and laughter. What a bizarre procession of multi-coloured individuals it was that marched down the road to my bachelor pad to clean themselves up! The neighbours must have stared in amazement as the gaggle of revellers washed themselves with the water that I stored in the storage tubs for this purpose.
Many of the ladies opted to shower in the privacy and comfort of the bathroom. Katniss and Pixie, the most sociable of my cats, were positively thrilled to see so many guests. They must have thought that my friends had come for the specific purpose of playing with them. They did receive a lot of attention from the ladies who were waiting for their turns to use the shower. Snacks and beverages were handed out to the hungry hordes.
Our multicoloured, multicultural, multifaith, low-waste green Holi celebrations was an enormous success, and I can't wait to do it again next year. Next year, I will try to make all the coloured powders myself out of food-grade ingredients, and I am sure I can think up activities to challenge the participants with.
So here's to spring, new friends and old, wild games and communal recreational spaces!
(Photo credits: Alison Sandra Murugesu, Shyam Priah and me)