While on an MBA exchange programme at NUS, University of South Carolina student Jenny Chen joined us in celebrating Holi, the Indian festival of colours.
I first heard about Holi in an email conversation from a Moore alumnus who had come on exchange to NUS the year before. She described it as a holiday that “involves powdered colors, water and tons of food and fun.” Even though it was exactly as she had described, it still did nothing to prepare me for what exactly was to happen.
The NUS MBA Student Council organized its own Holi celebration the Sunday before the actual holiday on the following Wednesday. Girls and guys dressed in Indian costumes greeted my sight as I walked towards the MBA Lounge. There was Indian music on two big speakers, and piles of colored powder on the floor. Soon after, I was approached by fellow Indian MBAs with various colored powders. “Happy Holi!” they greeted as they smeared the powder on my cheek.
After more people had showed up, a brief section of performances followed. First the history of Holi was told by our hosts. It’s based on yet another story about the fight of good and evil, and of course the good perseveres. Traditionally, Holi has a medicinal purpose behind it, as the powders were made of spices such as saffron and other herbs to prevent sicknesses that tend to spread more readily in the spring time. In addition, like many holidays of various cultures, a “special drink” is involved, which however could not be served due to Singapore regulations.
After the brief introduction of Holi, we enjoyed a beautifully sung song from an Indian movie, and what seemed to be a storytelling dance about Holi.
It was after the performances, when things got “out of hand”. More colored powder were brought out, the crowd became more mobile AND colorful. Soon enough, everybody including myself had colors covering our faces, hair, and clothes. I had to start running away from people to avoid looking like a clown.
It’s not over until water gets involved. The guys soon brought out buckets, water guns, and balloons. We migrated outside by the canteen to avoid making a mess in the hallway. People were getting tossed in the air by others while some one or the other always took it upon themselves to hose the “victim” down. I armed myself with a water gun and participated in random water squirting. Some people were so drenched in colored water that they are barely recognizable. I once again had to run away to avoid getting tossed in the air and getting my contacts hosed out. The sunny weather was perfect for the water “fights”, I felt like a kid again.
After about an hour or so of fun in the sun, we came to the food part of the event. A row of golden cauldron-look-alike food vessels were lined up in the canteen, filled with aromatic Indian cuisine. I tried to eat my food the Indian way, picking up curry with my naan, yet it always managed to slip out of my hand. Either way, the food made it to my stomach, and it really hit the spot!
Whatever I was informed about the celebration of Holi had not prepared me for what took place. It was definitely something that you have to experience to understand, and I’m glad I had the chance to do so. I would have to say Holi was one of the most interesting and fun cultural events I have experienced so far in Singapore.
MBA Exchange Student
University of South Carolina
Class of 2009