Aabir -Little playing much fighting

Little playing, much fighting. 

Months flew by in setting up the training centre, and before they knew it, Holi arrived in Vrindavan with the vim and vigour of spring. Binodini had just finished her puja of Lord Krishna at the Gokul ashram, when she heard a heated argument outside. As she stepped out of the ashram’s courtyard, she saw a few Hindu Sabha women activists beating up Minoti, one of the young widows of their ashram. One of the sadhvis smeared dust on Minoti’s face. The other slapped her hard. Minoti was sobbing uncontrollably. The sadhvis were rebuking Minoti for forgetting the limits of propriety.

Binodini promptly intervened, plucking Minoti out of the clutches of the sadhvis, who were part of a Holi procession that was passing by their ashram. Binodini pulled the bruised young widow inside and asked her what had happened. Minoti was too stunned to reply; she could barely stand up on her own. “Mai batati hu, didi,” another young widow, Jaya, stepped up and narrated the unfortunate incident. 

Seema, the 10-year-old daughter of a widow of their ashram, was standing at the ashram’s window, watching the Holi procession outside. With her hand stretched out of the window, she was waving at passersby. One of the women in the procession sprinkled some aabir in the little girl’s hand, and, out of excitement, Seema applied that colour on Minoti. With aabir on their faces, both Minoti and Seema went out on the lane to watch the procession. They caught the attention of the sadhvis when they cheered “Holi hai” to the people passing by. Then all hell broke loose and Minoti was beat up as they all saw.

Jaya looked at Binodini expectantly after finishing her narration, but Binodini did not speak. Another young widow, Meera, broke the silence. “Hum log Holi kyu nahi khel sakte, Binu didi?” Meera asked angrily. She was outraged that widows could not celebrate Holi. Binodini looked at her with a placatory smile. She patted her softly on the cheek, asking her to calm down. An elderly widow chimed in, explaining that a widow’s fate was bleak and colourless, so how could she be allowed to partake in the festival of colours?

The young women kept quiet. Even Binodini didn’t utter a word. However, she was silently shocked. The sadhvis’ actions had reminded her of that episode from her childhood, when she had put aabir on her Dadima and her mother had scolded and slapped her hard. Meera’s indignation resonated with the confusion and discontent of the little Binu inside Binodini. 

Next morning, while Binodini was coming up the steps of the ghat after an early-morning dip in the river Yamuna, she was haunted by Meera’s question. Why couldn’t a widow play Holi? The logic of tradition could not answer this question satisfactorily. Later in the day, she discussed this issue with Mr Pandit, but he could offer little help. This was not about money or connections within the government, this was not even about law: this was a very contentious issue involving religious traditions. Yet, he promised to consult some liberal women activists regarding this. 

In fact, Mr Pandit went on to consult some of the most esteemed national and international social activists and organisations. He even visited the religious heads in Vrindavan, asking their permission for the widows to celebrate Holi. But the guardians of the Hindu faith were not impressed. They were adamant and warned Mr Pandit against being too adventurous in religious matters.


sadhvi: A religious woman, a renunciant

Dadima: grandmother

ghat: riverbank

Photography: Jassi Oberai

Location: Vrindavan, Mathura, India

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