University of Wisconsin–Madison

Spring Break 2014

This spring break is turning in to one of those periods in my life that I will look back on and think, “Did that really happen? And how?” [But perhaps that will be how this entire year turns out, because it all just feels very unexpected and surreal.]

This is the first spring break I’ve had that doesn’t correspond with Easter, not that that has ever factored in to my vacation plans, and I didn’t spend it laying on the beach or catching up on homework. Spring break for us corresponded with the Holi festival, which is perhaps India’s (Hinduism’s) most well known holiday.

Since this is our longest break during the semester, I had the option to take advantage of the days off to go on a long trip, but I really wanted to celebrate the festival with my family, so I planned accordingly. I went with two other students to Bodhgaya for three days, a small town in neighboring Bihar that Buddhist pilgrims flock to because it’s where the Buddha became enlightened. It was different than I anticipated it to be, dustier and smaller, but the place has an undeniable peace about it, and I enjoyed all the different people we got to talk to from all over the world. [Sidenote: I think the Buddhists are my people, they are all so calm and happy.]

Making this trip in time brought us back to Banaras in time to celebrate the holiday, and after Urdu class on Sunday I spent four hours making “nashta” (snacks) with my host mom for impending guests, and at night I watched the holika fire (a giant bonfire) burning from my balcony. (There’s a long backstory to Holi, but like many stories, it boils down to the victory of good over evil.)

This morning I was so oddly excited for the holiday that I woke up at 6am and swept some of the cobwebs from my ceiling until I got tired again, and then got back into bed until my sister came to get the newspaper from my room, and then the color playing started. Lots of people play in the streets, but it’s almost entirely men, and since many of them drink and get rowdy women are discouraged from going outside to play. I had fun playing with my sisters and our dog on the roof though. A little while later some of my sister’s friends from their computer classes came with gigantic bags of colored powder, and with my host mom watching like a hawk they colored us pretty well.

After breakfast and a long shower that didn’t quite get the color all removed I finished cleaning my room (it’s customary to have a clean house for the holiday) and helped my host mom make lunch. We ate and siesta-ed. In the evening it’s customary to visit family and friends, so my classmates and I visited our Hindi teacher and later I joined my host family in visiting with some of their friends and family. (It’s funny, it seems to me that the women just get together to offer each other the same snacks that all the others have made and compare notes on how many hours/days of hard work all the cooking took, which is lots.)

I’m glad I decided to come back to Varanasi for the holiday, since it will be a memory I’ll carry with me for a long time.

This cute old man really wanted us to sit next to him longer under the tree, even though he could talk to us
This cute old man really wanted us to sit next to him longer under the tree, even though he could talk to us
Behind this temple is the tree where Buddha became enlightened
Behind this temple is the tree where Buddha became enlightened
Inside a Tibetan temple
Inside a Tibetan temple
After playing "real Holi"
After playing “real Holi”
My host sisters with some of their school friends
My host sisters with some of their school friends
Playing with colors on my host families roof
Playing with colors on my host families roof
Putting color on my youngest host sister
Putting color on my youngest host sister