From my apartment window I can see a group of celebrating Songkarn. Yes, it is supposed to be the last day of the festival. But because of the political troubles in Bangkok over the past one week, celebrations in the last few days were quite muted. Now that there is some kind of peace, the revelers have come out.
Songkarn is the time of the Thai New Year. People celebrate it by smearing a white paste and throwing water on each other. The white paste is supposed to ward off evil and water is a symbol of purification – by throwing water one cleanses the self of all sins.
SO during Songkarn, one finds groups of people in street corners armed with water sprinklers, small buckets backed up by huge drums and bowls of white paste – stopping vehicles and exchanging New Year greetings. Yes, invariably there is some racy music playing in the background and when there is a lull in the number of passing vehicles the revelers have a dancing session on the street. There are also these mobile revelers on pick-up trucks – families, children pile up on the back of their pick-up truck accompanied with a big drum of water – washing sins and getting their sins washed as they cruise across the city.
Coming from Delhi, I invariably remember Holi during this time. I also remember how I used to dread the approach of Holi – from atleast ten days before the festival, one had to become guarded, be on constant guard against the attack from water balloons. One could not venture out on foot without being hit. The worst was when you were going out in the morning – going out for work and then getting drenched. And sometimes the balloon hit you in the eye, or the stomach or the backbone – and it was so painful.
But there is something about this group of people that I am watching now. I see a few people riding motorcycles do a small 'wai' (a gesture with folded hands) perhaps indicating that they do not wish to be drenched and the revelers return their wai by refraining from throwing water on them. They don't throw water on motorcycles driving at high speed. They also don't throw water on people walking on the road and whose clothes are dry. Though standing on the road, they seem to celebrating with those on the motorcycles and pick-up trucks who want to celebrate with them. There is even one person with a whistle – guiding traffic as they stop pick-up trucks.
Yes, there are a number of deaths during Songkarn because of the use of high-powered water guns on unprotected drivers. There are cases of sexual harassment as well. In some cases, people by evening get a little drunk – and their dancing together with the music gets a bit raunchier. My fear of holi is too great – I am wary of venturing out in the streets. But the few times when I have ventured out in the streets during Songkarn, I have not had any bad experience.
It is rather fun watching the people behave like that – deewana and mastana… I could not find any English words to describe the spirit – getting intoxicated by the act of throwing water on others and dancing and singing…