Shooting photographs of Holi – the Indian festival of colors, in and around the birthplace of the Hindu God Krishna and his consort Radha was brewing in our minds for quite sometime. We did some rudimentary planning, bought our tickets, booked our stay, and added some more zing to the 10 days plan with Dr. Mitra and Dineshji. All three of us were to drive out of Gurgaon on 6th of March, after Prabir arrived from UK on 5th evening and Dineshji on 6th morning from Varanasi. About a week before, however, we had delta inputs – and a preponed itinerary. The biggest drama of this plan was Dr. Mitra’s flight plan – from a direct London Heathrow to Delhi IGI airports, his changed flight plan was now LHR to Hyderabad in South India, to Jaipur and then on to Delhi – a seven-odd hour flight extended to roughly eighteen hours long.
Dineshji arrived New Delhi Railway station by Shiv Ganga Express from Varanasi on the 4th of March – we had the good intension of conducting a recce. The train reached about 90 minutes later than the scheduled 08:10AM and by the time we picked him up at the Gurgaon Metro station, it was almost noon. We chose to rest for the rest of the day in Gurgaon and take the long drive to Barsana the following day.
We drove out for a recce to Barsana on the 5th – the day of “Ladoo Holi”.
Unlike most of the country where the festival of Holi is celebrated on a single day, the entire festival in Brajbhoomi is quite long and extensive. Almost one week before the main Holi celebrations, which was on the 13th of March this year, the ceremony begins with people from Barsana inviting people from Nandgaon, to come and play Holi. This invitation is extended by throwing and smearing the traditional sweet, “laddoo” and color at each other. I chatted up with a local Kamlesh, who said, “we celebrate with laddoos as an offering to the Lord Banke Bihari and Radha Rani”. The following day, people come to Nandgaon to Barsana and celebrate what is known as “Laathmaar” Holi, and the day after people from Barsana travel to the neighbouring village Nandgaon for a similar ritual. ( The festival is as much documented elsewhere on the internet as the crowds that throng these festival, and my adding to the crowd will be just that, sans value)
We reached early, found out a place to park the car – and was happy about the space, since the on the following day, one, the designated parking space was a couple of kilometers away from the main venue and two, importantly, this was a space unknown to most visitors to Barsana, hence relatively empty.
The fall side, although was that every corner of this space was used by people including women, as public urinal, so by day end the stench was unbearable. As we sat on the steps of a water pumping station, the unmistakable stench of urine turned out to be the trade-off for the accessible and relatively spacious parking space.
On our way back to Gurgaon from Barsana, I tracked Dr. Mitra’s flight – a delay of 35 minutes and he landed in Delhi. Back home, as we got busy to wrap up the DSLRs and prepare for an early start, the seasoned photo-journalist in Dineshji was relaxed. We started our trip early morning around 5ish from Gurgaon, and were at the Barsana parking lot after a short tea break and a minor spat with the local cops for parking by 08:45am. I avoided joining the duo, and later in the day realized that, that was indeed a prudent decision, considering that I wasn’t yet 100% since my CVA eleven months back. The situation I got to understand from the photos I saw later is certainly not an environment that excites me. At least more than a 150 odd cameras and an unaccounted for number of thieves. When my friends came back after one round of shooting, we realized that Prabir’s gold chain had been snatched away. The simple modus operandi – snatch off anything valuable by momentarily disabling the target with colored powder on their eyes. Later in the crowd we saw young men molesting women, often drenching them in colored water. I stood by a tea stall and spoke to the owner – he said in dismay, that that indeed is the norm that most young men believe – that Holi is a game to be played by young men with women – the unwritten code allowing misbehavior bordering on hooliganism.
…to be continued