Linda and spent a few months travelling around India in Spring 1993. We arrived in Udaipur around the time of the Holi festival. We found ourselves a wonderful lodging in a small family run guesthouse. The room had a large balcony overlooking a narrow street by the ghats, and photographs of colonial lion hunts on the wall. The youngest son of the owners, a lad around eight, was fascinated by us, and eager to take us out for the celebrations.
Earlier in the day, Linda and I had ventured out by ourselves and been plastered with paint, powder and water. Several times men had taken the daubing as an opportunity to grope Lin, and on one occaision I was felt up by a man whose face turned quite pale when he realised he was cupping a pair of testicles. I did have long hair at the time, but I hadn’t considered myself that girlish.
After all this, Linda was in no mood for a repeat, so the kid and I headed out for the afternoon without her. We worked our way through the masses, more paint and water making its way onto us. My guide planned to take me to his uncle’s house where a private celebration was taking place. We headed out of the teeming centre into quieter streets.
As the streets grew deserted we encountered a group of very excited youths who approached us with much mirth and handfuls of colourful powder which they rubbed into my hair. They were a mix of children and teens, numbering about 30, and as they smeared they encircled us. The crowd started to feel more like a mob, and a more focussed one than the chaos of the ghats. My young guide was squeezed out the edge, but I was very much trapped at the centre. Hands grabbed at my arms, then suddenly I was taken by the ankles too, and thrust up into the air over the crowd. I shouted and struggled, and my guide screamed and begged them to put me down.
As if of one mind, they worked their way down the street, still holding me aloft. I then spotted their destination – a large water trough used for watering cattle. I squirmed and writhed with a greater urgency, punching and kicking. My body was heaved up and down by the multitude of small and larger hands. Laughter grew as they neared the trough, and the embarrassing yet classic image of being dumped in it played through my head. Somehow, with a yank of hair here and kick to the head there I managed to free myself, and struggle to the ground.
A friendly hand now gripped my arm, and my guide towed me down an alley way towards his uncle’s house. We pushed through a gate and slammed it shut. Looking through a crack I could see the mob behind, screaming and shouting with some anger now, frustrated that their little joke had broken down at the last minute. In my memory they look like a Bollywood crowd of thugs, the ring leaders wearing colourful bandannas, about to break out into shrill song and fantastic choreography. The voice of someone older rang out over the wall in Hindi. I was tugged into the house.
Inside I was again encircled by people who wanted to rub my hair. This time it was women, all of whom were fascinated by my long hair. I brush was produced and the paint and powder was combed away. I was pampered with curious looks and indian festival foods, extremely pleasant, until I started to feel desperately uncomfortable with being the centre of attention, albeit in a less physically dangerous way. I told the kid I should be getting back to Linda. We made our thankful goodbyes, and took a quick look over the gate before stepping out. Around a couple of corners the mob was waiting for us after their musical number – back to the story.
This was getting tiresome for me, and also a little terrifying. The demographic of the gang seemed to have drifted up the age and size scale – I’d escaped the cattle trough, but possibly worse was now on the agenda. Again the kid pleaded them to go away. I saw the need to be more persuasive and picked up a large chunk of concrete, raised it above my head, and gave a shriek I hoped demonstrated a willingness to cave in a skull. They kept their distance, but followed as we backed away. As we neared the still densely crowded street, I threw the concrete down at their feet and we dashed in to the melee.
When we reached the hotel, the kid, Linda and I took revenge on the people from Udaipur by tipping bucket loads of water over every man who passed beneath our balcony for the rest of the afternoon.