Benny Padilla is a first-tour Vice Consul from the great state of California. When he is not participating in joyful Indian holidays, he enjoys playing basketball, traveling throughout the region, and sharing his love of Mexican food to both friends and strangers alike.
I was not prepared for this when i was learning Telugu in the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) but not for a lack of trying. About a year ago, I played Holi on the peaceful lawns of FSI in Virginia. I considered it a bold decision considering the fact that all South Asian language students at the time were dared by the event organizers to douse their respective language teachers in water and bright colors. We had the standard equipment: several brightly colored powders, water guns, and a clear space to run amuck while other students (those in Chinese or Arabic classes) looked out their windows with envy. Yes, back in 2010, I thought I knew what "playing Holi" meant and since then I looked forward to the event in its native land.
This past Sunday morning I was ready to experience Holi all over again. For good luck, I even wore the same old, white sweater which I used during the 2010 Holi event and had kept in its 2010 condition--complete with the colorful fingerprints and stains made by my Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati, and Urdu classmates. Like I said, I thought I was ready. Upon arriving at the designated Holi venue and being greeted by about a dozen friendly relatives of our host, I think most of my American coworkers braced themselves mentally for a one-of-a-kind type of day. The host’s family greeted us with a "Happy Holi!" and a quick slathering of colorful powder across our face and/or neck, which would prove to be one of many layers we'd get throughout the day. Since no one objected to this cheerful greeting, I think our host’s relatives were happily convinced that I, along with the others who arrived at the same time, wanted to truly experience Holi.
It didn't take long for one of my American coworkers and me to rally each other (some saw it as wrestling) into getting soaked by buckets and buckets of Holi water. After that, my day just got better. Not only did everyone present get soaked by the purple-ish Holi water at some point or another, but they usually did it with a huge grin on their face. And they continued to do it. Over and over again. There was music, there were delicious snacks (served by some of the most cautious waiters ever...I think they escaped without any bright spots on their sleeves), and, put simply, there was a good vibe. No one spoke about the heat or the rise in visa numbers or the rise in oil prices or the fact that everyone knew these colors would not come off in a 15 minutes shower (or three days later)...it was nice and it was unique. How many times do you see a friend willingly get into an oil drum filled with liquid colors of neon, pink, sky blue and light green? You have to see it to believe it.
In my opinion, as a two-time Holi "player", this year's event was a success. I celebrated an important Indian holiday with a diverse set of friends in the convenience of a relaxed atmosphere and it was just really fun. Holi can be tiring, and I realized that you can't go into it 50 percent. You have to commit completely to it and that might be another reason why I enjoyed it so much. Now I must return to scrubbing the Pink Panther tone off of my hands...