India 2016: Holi in Varanasi – 23 March

I’d been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
I’d been to the Taste of Chicago.
I’d been to Blues Fest in Chicago.
I’d been Lollapalooza in Chicago.
I’d been to BottleRock in Napa.
I’d been to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in both San Francisco and Chicago.
I’d been to a number of block parties all over the States, hosting several myself.

I have a history of being in the mix of madness, adept at moving myself comfortably within a mass of people. I’m ok with it, though these days, I’d rather avoid it, not nearly as big a fan of crowds as I used to be.

None of that would prepare me for Point Zero in Varanasi, celebrating Holi, the Indian Festival of Colours, where people douse each other in colour — either throwing coloured powder on each other or spraying each other with coloured water. I’d seen the YouTube videos. I’d experienced it in San Jose. So it’s not like any of it was a really big surprise; and yet it was a lot to handle. And I loved every bit of it. Perhaps, Derek and DaveRisner was there experiencing it for the very first time. More accurately, #Rollo and #ThatGuy who was giving #FreeHugs owned the streets of Varanasi as we carried our luggage the hour walk walk to the hotel at which we were staying — The Scindhia Guest House.

DaveRisner looked like DaveRisner. That’s part of his magic. Later, he would admit to us that at first he didn’t know whether the people coming up to him were going to steal his wallet safely in his front pocket or trying to spread joy. He opted for joy and started giving away free hugs. That’s been his intent this entire trip — give away free hugs. “Give it away. Give it away. Give it away now.”

Derek was an entirely different matter altogether. He morphed into and owned his #Rollo personality, with his plastic lavender glasses and brownish blond afro and selfie stick, he was a target for every single man high on bhang (the hallucinogenic drug the Holi revelers were most certainly on). If DaveRisner was giving out free hugs, the revelers were all turning it around to pass the free hug along to Derek. Old men, middle-aged men, young men, children wall wanted a piece of #Rollo and he gave it to them. And with every interaction of Varanasi’s citizens caking colour on him, #Rollo got more and more caked with color – reds, oranges, blues, and purples.

Besides how high or drunk the revelers on the streets were, I could not help but notice how insanely busy Varanasi was – from traffic at every turn accompanied by constant honking, hordes and hordes of people, cows, stray dogs, and the like. The other thing you couldn’t help but notice was the stench – trash every where mixed with cow dung and dog shit made for quite an assault onto our noses.

Welcome to Varanasi.

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