“They need some Punjabi blood here”, I whooped as we loped down to Nopparat Beach. The road curved down from our hotel, over the creek, and into the clear light of the bay, Krabi’s signature islands still shadowy in the early sun . On the pavement outside a store, a little clump of children stood around a large blue plastic drum. Tentative, they splashed some clear water on us from a little kitchen bowl. “Happy Sonkrant”, I beamed, my hands folded. “Namaste”, then swooped into the drum, my enormous hands cupped into twin scoops, and showered water in arcs of joy.
“Happy Sonkrant”, 20 yards down, I teased a garden hose from a smiling teenager, and sprayed my son and our friends with the energy of a North Indian Holi mobster. Our hosts beamed and smeared our cheeks with the most innocent of white pastes – talcum powder and a daub of water. “Thank You”, I turned the hose on them and did a bhangra jig.
Outside the Holiday Inn Resort, white tourists with pink calves lined the kerb, wielding fat-barreled water-cannons in Disneyland plastic colours. Thai hotel workers dressed in black tended hoses and vast plastic drums. “Happy Sonkran”, we screeched, and grabbed a hose. Someone turned on generic pop and we bobbed and sprayed.
A pick-up van slowed as it slithered towards us, teenagers clustered around the drums tethered to its bed. “That’s evil!” Maya screeched as they splashed us with iced water. “Turn the hose on them.” Some of the water cannons followed suit, some more iced water was rained, and one pick-up van was followed by the next.
Shack-owners and shop-keepers gave way to food stalls with satay sticks and cut pineapple, with fried cockroaches and grilled cocoons. On the beach, a thousand picnics celebrated the New Year with movable feasts and Thai pop thumping from parked cars. It was everybody’s Sonkran, if you wanted. Or not, if you didn’t. The streets were awash with water from drums and pistols, hoses and plastic buckets, but no one was sprayed unless they were willing. And though the young who cruised Ao Nang on their motor cycles and vans were well-fuelled by Singha beer, there was no drunken revelry, no hint of festive energy turning renegade or threatening.
“Same-same like Sonkran?” our taxi-driver asked when I told him about our Holi. “Indian festival have colour, no?” Yes, it has colour. Too much colour. And too much energy. An energy that turned demonic and aggressive, and had to be taken off the streets of my native Delhi. Shut behind the walls of our homes and our clubs, and our farm-houses. Where like now only meets like, and the public becomes private. Where the goodwill of a festival that could spread clear across a bay, or an entire peninsula, is confined within tiny little pools isolated from each other by sand banks of fear and privilege.