Many of you may still have stains on your faces and bodies from the festival of colours. Monday, March 17, was Holi. The multi-colour motif of Holi comes in handy as a living manifestation of the much-touted 'unity in diversity' trademark of this nation-state. People joyfully sprinkled colour on each other. Unsuspecting people who were out and about wearing normal dress regretted that they did so. A lot of bhang-laden Thandai was drunk.
A lot of women were taken advantage of. Some desi and many firangi photographers were shooting away to capture the colourful 'soul of India' that was on public display on its streets and on private display in the farmhouses of the powerful. That was the day. Or was it?Sunday, March 16, was Dol-Jatra for tens of millions of inhabitants of Odisha, Assam and Bengal, and yes that too was a riot of colours. 'Dol' means a swing and 'Jatra' means journey. Of course, Lord Krishna and Radha are the ones on the swing and the devotees take them around. Phakuwa happened in Assam at that time. All this is accompanied by the throwing of colours. There is no thandai involved. Not all 'festivals of colour' are the same. Saying Dol-Jatra is Bengal's version of Holi, does not sound objectionable. However, referring to Holi as Uttar Pradesh's version of Dol-Jatra is a bit odd.
I may be told not to mix-up up the mainstream with the variant, the standard language with the marginal dialect. I will be shown my place and advised to play along in the 'national' festival of colours. Some will say, how does the name matter — it's a fun occasion. It is easy for people to 'look past' variations, when the hierarchy of variations favours their cultural world. Others 'look past' to be accepted by the 'mainstream'.The problem with this idea of a cultural 'mainstream' with 'regional' variants is that it is a sophisticated name for good old crude majoritarianism. The state endorses this idea — of preferring one over another. In West Bengal, the governor notified that the day after Dol-Jatra will also be a holiday in all offices under the Government of West Bengal. In the Central governments list of holidays, there is only mention of Holika Dahan.
There is no mention of the name Dol-Jatra. The deep ideology of a state is given by these 'innocuous' choices, of font-size variations of different languages in Gandhi-chhap currency notes, the automatic language of CRPF or BSF irrespective of their postings in West Bengal or Tamil Nadu. The signs are everywhere.The marriage-associated events from the north are now increasingly part of marriage ceremonies of Bengalis and Kannadigas. The most sublime form of this cultural hierarchy is seen is diasporic communities whose marriages invariably have 'Sangeet' and the colour festival is always called 'Holi'. They are nothing but Indians. The next group embodying this sublime ideology is the upwardly mobile, well-off tribe of yuppies who have voluntarily moved to subcontinental cities located outside the province they were born in. Such ethno-cultural flattening does no service to the Hindi-heartland where many cultures are in a state of decay, thanks to metro-centrism Hindiism.
Whose 'local' becomes 'national' and whose 'local' disappears when ideas like 'all India' and 'mainstream' are evoked? Why is the direction of traffic in this supposedly two-way street so predictable? When was the last time a Tamil religious/cultural custom went 'mainstream' and was picked up in Delhi? Why does the leading contender for prime-ministership focus most in areas where Holi is the uncontested name for the festival of colours?
The author is a brain scientist at MIT and tweets at @gargac