It’s a world of frenzy, of madness, of colour lived out once a year. It’s “Holi”, the festival of Love and Spring. It was an unimaginable, extraordinary experience to photograph the ecstatic crowds, to be amid this humanity, blowing with all their might on horns and whistles, running madly in all directions, drumming furiously on drums, cans, or anything that could evoke a little more wild celebration, delirium and uncensored joy.
I remember my first attempt to capture this in photographs. It was, of course, incredible to see—far beyond anything one could imagine. But taking photos was out of the question. This was not because I encountered resistance, but because the people were utterly, completely beside themselves with song, dance, life, love and God. Transported as well as by anything else which seized them--including the influence of thandai, a celestial cocktail of sugar, almonds, spices, water and cannabis leaves which authorizes even the grown-ups complete license. They aimed at my trousers to soak me with their pichkaris, a kind of bicycle pump transformed into water cannon filled with indelible colors. They covered my face with a shower of multicolored powders, gulal, until I couldn't see. Then they set off again in search of another victim: no one escapes this treatment. It is an out-and-out brawl, and at the same time an enormous farce. Except that, unlike the others, I was not armed with holy gulal, but only with a camera, intending to take photos in the midst of this chaotic free-for-all.
The first day, I was overcome with despair. Overpowered by a sense of helplessness, exhausted, I sat down at the edge of a pond far from the madding crowd, and dipping biscuits in a glass of tchaï—the inimitable Indian tea full of sugar and milk—I tried to calm down. If India had taught me one thing, it was patience. One hears time and again, "No problem, my friend." Even during the worst moments, a true Indian will continue to repeat while smiling, 'What is there to get upset about?' 'Everything will be OK.'. This 'No problem', was difficult for me at first; until I understood that it was more than a mere polite expression: it expresses a whole philosophy. It testifies to a vast interior richness, imbued with a profound wisdom.
The gods decided to be kind to me. I hit upon the idea of making a poncho out of a large white sheet--that is, it started out being white. This served to protect the camera from the avalanches of colorful powders, and had the added advantage of drying quickly in the sun, after being hit with the tidal waves of water scented with flowers, sandalwood or saffron. Above all, in my new identity as a ghost—rather than being an intruder—I was able to enter more fully into the celebration.
The goal of this extraordinary religious event is to dissolve the borders between individuals and to join with the divinity. At each corner, one treads a fine line between dream and reality. One sees red dogs and blue pigs passing by, while your old neighbor has become pink from head to toe—and continues to smile—lost in the clouds. In the sun-filled whirlwinds, the spectrums of colors mix and merge to mask the bodies and unite them in a single dark appearance. And from these shadows, due to a sublime metamorphosis, the light of the Unique One emerges. There is no more ego, no more gender, no more old and young, no more rich and poor. The individual soul joins the universal soul. For a few fleeting moments, one joins with the love of the cosmos, and time ceases to exist.