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“Holi Is Exactly How The System Of Patriarchy Works.”

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I’ve outgrown festivals like my childhood clothes since I moved out. This city of Delhi and I share a symbiotic relationship where it provides me a space for my cynicism and I don’t breach its clause of unbelongingness – they’re codependent and thrive in unison. The ordinariness of every vacation I’ve spent here cannot be outweighed by a phone call wishing me “Happy Diwali” and a forwarded message that I will forward to ten more people.

In Delhi, Diwali is separated from me by the fourth wall. I’m merely a spectator jaywalking the roads of Kamla Nagar in the hope of finding the biryani place, at the end of the road, open. It is when I’m eating biryani that the fourth wall tends to fall and I’m almost pulled into the spectacle but the awareness of the clause spins me back to being what I was, into a constructed reality.

For somebody who doesn’t go back home, the March mid-semester break lasts a lifetime. It usually collides with the ‘festival of water ballooning of my consent’ or Holi as we know it. Unlike Diwali, where the space can contain others’ celebration without affecting my nonchalance to it, Holi forces me into the spectacle.

A boy throwing water balloon as children play with colours during Holi. (Photo: Virendra Singh Gosain for Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

It can be fun if you have a fast vehicle and your sense of festivity is extracted from making other people’s outgoing experience miserable. But, unfortunately, I don’t possess a fast vehicle and am the part of the pedestrian crowd who is bullied into staying inside.

The thing about being a pedestrian particularly in Delhi (as I’ve experienced) is that to the people driving you’re not actual human beings walking on roads, you’re the VLC media player cones that they either dodge or run over. But, interestingly, during Holi you’re stripped of this invisible cloak, you’re finally visible and not just that – you’re the object of attention.

You or the object as they perceive it, have two options: either walk out with a raincoat and get hit or walk out without a raincoat and then get hit (#RealLifeBandersnatch) because for this week, all the world’s PubG and pedestrians are mere targets.

I think we’re all aware of the sanctioned hooliganism that this culture of entitled happy/trippy people promote and which most of us, willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or ignorantly perpetuate. In Delhi, of course, we do things differently.

A Holi playing session in progress.

I was getting back to my accommodation with my friend, looking here and there every now and then when two men in their bike hit my friend with a water balloon and raced off to oblivion. It wasn’t that we didn’t expect it, we knew it already and our reaction was like the ‘meh’ of the texting world.

I know. We’re supposed to be angry, right? Call out the people who did it and make sure they don’t do this again because we’re strong women and our safety is our responsibility. But not every woman is Wonder Woman and so I couldn’t chase the bike:

(a) because it was fast,

(b) because I was tired and,

(c) I don’t have to give you an explanation for my action because my safety is my basic civic right and should not be endangered by the virtue of my gender.

You definitely knew we will land here, right? Making everything about feminism and playing the ‘woman’s card’ is what women writing is all about, right? The thing is:

(a) In public places, like roads at night, the sex ratio of women to men is similar to that of educated politicians and criminals in Indian politics.

(b) Why was it that when so many men were present the bikers would make sure that only we get hit?

(c) I will connect everything to what you misunderstand as ‘feminism’ because I have to navigate through everyday gender discrimination and cannot narrate my experiences in vacuum, and if you find it problematic, then either you are a cultural moron or posses the personality of a cabbage. (#RealLifeBandersnatch)

Meanwhile, if you completely understand that Holi is conducive to toxic masculinity explosion which leads to gender specific harassment, then I’m sorry for my Ted Talk and would like to go on with the story.

My friend exclaimed in her usual monotony,“Oh, thank God! It’s water.”

That was indeed very decent of these men.

Her remark took me back to the last mid-semester break when a fellow student was attacked with semen-filled water balloon in the middle of the market. I cringed at the thought of it and with the stock of food in both our hands rushed to our safe house. We had to stock up food because during the next few days, we wouldn’t step out. Not in this world where my safety is my responsibility.

Thus, the Birdbox week began and got over and will come again and again to haunt us and keep us locked in and our stories of harassment will become redundant. But, that shouldn’t stop us from sharing these because that’s what helps us endure this pain that we laugh off.

Holi is how the system of patriarchy works; it won’t coerce you into staying in, it will simply make it impossible for you to go out. I’ve played this situation so many times in my head where my reflexes match that of Wonder Woman and I chase the bike and make sure those men learn their lesson.

I don’t understand why such experiences hover and weigh heavily on my mind. Maybe the ‘meh’ was my reflex fooling me into believing it’s okay when it wasn’t.

For all the Holis to come: Do me a favour, let’s learn consent.

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