This post was originally shared on the personal blog of Towson junior Alie Waller who studied in India in Spring 2015 with the American Institute of Foreign Study (AIFS). We’re happy to share this post as part of our Student Stories and the Fall 2015 edition of our newsletter. Thanks, Alie!
Over the past two and a half months I have truly fallen in love with India.
After stepping off the plane and into a bustling city of unknowns, I knew I was meant to be here at some point in my life. The crisp sandalwood aroma that drifts through the crowded streets; the rows of vendors aggressively selling fragrant flowers, colorful spices, and shiny bangles; the hectic traffic full of cars, buses, auto-rickshaws (small taxi-like vehicles), and bikes swerving past each other with just enough time to avoid a collision; the many people dressed in vibrantly colored saris, kurtas, as well as Western clothes. All of these components envelop you immediately upon arrival. Although I was incredibly overwhelmed at first, these dynamic surroundings have become a second home for me, as well as my travel companions.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you, India has its quirks. More than half of the time, the iconic fragrance of sandalwood is heavily masked by the stench of manure or urine, although this is something you definitely get accustomed to as time goes on. The vendors can often be too aggressive when they see a foreigner walk by, and you really have to do your best to ignore them and keep walking in order for them to understand that you genuinely aren’t interested in the knock-off Ray Bans they’re offering you. Then there’s the issue of staring. While India is a travel destination for people across the globe, there is still nowhere near as much tourism here as in other countries such as China or Mexico. Couple this with an obsession with fair skin and you get constant stares and requests for pictures or autographs as if you were an A-list celebrity. Oh and not to mention the heat. While some of these things initially detract from the overall beauty that is India, they easily become part of everyday life and move into the background of your mind and attention.
Now that I’m done with my intro to life in India, let me get to the real matter at hand: Holi!
When I decided to study abroad in India, I knew immediately that I wanted to come for the spring semester. Prior to this decision, I had participated in an event held on my campus by the South Asian Student Association called the Holi Run, which was a combination of Holi Festival and the Color Run. It included a 5k where colors were thrown at you as you passed certain checkpoints, which was followed by a small version of Holi complete with dance performances and a DJ blasting Indian hits while the sky was painted with a rainbow of colored powder. I had a blast! I knew that I had to experience firsthand the festival that served as inspiration for the event on my campus.
So the morning of Holi my friends and I excitedly dressed in unimportant clothing and armed ourselves with the pouches of colored powder we had purchased the night before for a measly 10 rupees (roughly 6 cents) each. We also slathered on coconut oil over our bodies and hair to avoid getting stained (SPOILER ALERT: this didn’t help).
We left the safe haven of our residence with a group of about ten international students and were immediately the victims of a color war. Being a foreigner on Holi means that you might as well have a bull’s eye spray painted on your back, because the Indian students love making sure you get the full experience. People literally run up to you from all directions yelling a cheerful “Happy Holi!” as they throw color on your clothes, hair, and face. This action is then reciprocated which leads to much smiling and laughter as you play with the friendliest strangers you’ve ever met. We walked across campus playing Holi with anyone we encountered. People riding by on their motorbikes would hop off just to color you and be colored in return, always with the widest grins on their faces. It’s safe to say that after about five minutes, we were quite the colorful group!
After a full two hours of walking around our main campus, we headed back to the south campus where there was a huge party going on. Half of the school was there dancing and laughing while they continued to color each other. There was a hose dangling from the balcony which led to a giant mud puddle in the middle of all of the festivities. All of my Indian friends failed to mention that there was a tradition of dragging people into the giant mud puddle and forcing them to roll around. I learned about this tradition a little too late as I was picked up and carried to the puddle, where my friends proceeded to roll me around. It seemed like a rite of passage, because afterwards everyone cheered. I had the time of my life dancing to Bollywood hits and simply enjoying my extraordinary life in India. Holi has got to be the happiest holiday in the world! What touched me the most was that although the majority of the people I celebrated Holi with were strangers, their kindness and determination to include me made me feel so at home and a part of my university’s community. I felt like I was with friends that I’d known for years.
I firmly believe that everyone should add “experience Holi festival in India” to their bucket list ASAP!