Holi with the Gurkhas

March 3rd, 201012:37 am @


A launch any shot-putter would be proud of.

Amid the swirling chaos of screams and flying debris, I singled out my target. Engaged in a deep conversation with the person next to him, he didn’t notice my approach. I tightly gripped the handle of the gun I’d stolen as I edged forward, hoping he wouldn’t turn and notice me before I could get close enough for a clean shot. I didn’t want to mess this up.

Did I really want to do this? Did I really want to shoot a Gurkha in the back? What if I missed? Okay, it was only a water pistol, and it was Holi, when getting shot with a water pistol is de rigueur, but something inside me – some lizard-brain sense of self-preservation – told me that shooting a trained killer really wasn’t exactly a good idea.

Last year we celebrated Holi at Bombay’s Juhu Beach, where it seemed the entire population of the city, or the northern half at least, had come to wash off a day’s worth of coloured powder. This year we celebrated it at the British High Commission in New Delhi where the Gurkhas put on a morning display of throwing-a-rock-further-than-the-other-guy before shouting everyone lunch.

At stake was a table full of beer. It might have only been Fosters, but it was still a table full of beer, so there were no holds barred. Once the winner had been decided, everyone was invited back to their digs for more beers, food and traditional Holi celebrations.

Covered in colour and with beers waiting, the winner takes his dues.

Some people will tell you Holi marks the escape of some god from another god because he was pure and chaste. These are what you call boring people. Holi is really all about throwing coloured powder at every person you see before dousing them with water for good measure.

And so it was back at the Gurkhas’ quarters – by the time we arrived the coloured powder was flying freely. At first, however, it was all a bit odd putting coloured powder on someone you’d never met.

“Oh hello! Happy Holi,” you’d say to some random stranger. “You look like you could do with a bit of colour,” you’d add, before dabbing a small amount on their cheek or shoulder. They’d return the favour and you’d both go your separate ways. As the day wore on and the beer, vodka, whiskey and rum flowed more freely, things changed.

“Mother-fucker!” you’d scream as someone doused you in water then covered you in green dye. Picking up an empty bucket – someone’s washing bucket, no doubt – you’d race to the nearest tap to exact revenge.

The carnage continued long into the morning and afternoon, with water balloons catching people unawares in the groin; red, yellow, green, pink and blue powder hitting untold numbers of victims; groups of teenagers sticking a hose down people’s trousers.

It was in this milieu that I approached my would-be victim and suffered death by a thousand doubts. In the end I figured discretion to be the better part of valour and turned my water pistol on the five-year-old child of some diplomat running past me. He cried a bit as I soaked him with water, but it was the lesser of two evils.

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