From Gangnam Style guns, water balloons and powders in bright hues, Sowcarpet is all set to celebrate Holi. Akila Kannadasan strolls through the streets

The guns are out. They hang proudly from the streetside carts, in sunshine orange and fluorescent green. When it’s time, they will be filled with ammunition and carried around the gullies of Sowcarpet — and people will be shot at. But no one will be hurt; they will rather shoot back — with a squirt of colourful water. After all, it’s Holi.

These colours mean different things to different people. For Ramani, a vendor, they signify a livelihood. She sells the powders by the pavement a week ahead of Holi every year. For Shyamlal Daga who owns a textile shop in the area, they are vehicles that take him back in time when he ran around on Holi day his hands stuffed with organic colours. For school kid Chetan, they are playthings that will stick to his white kurta for months to come.

Ready for Holi

Every year, Sowcarpet dons new attire a week before Holi. The roadside vendors who sell fruits and vegetables switch over to coloured powder, water guns, and balloons. Pink, yellow, green and orange powders wink from street corners and plastic water guns in various sizes nod at passers-by.

Business hasn’t been good this year, but the vendors are hopeful. Karthik and his wife Devi are arranging packets of colour powder one on top of the other. “Yesterday, the police busted our stalls…we lost a lot of our goods,” he says. “But I hope to make my annual profit of Rs. 2000,” he adds.

Holi starts early for these vendors — they inadvertently have colour powder smeared on their faces from selling them. Karthik, for instance, has a pink nose and Deepa, another vendor, has a yellow ear!

This year, the ‘Gangnam style’ water gun is the cool thing to have. It occupies pride of place in every stall. Guns shaped like snakes, guns with pictures of Aamir Khan and Asin, ‘Angry Bird’ guns, zebra-striped guns…some of these can hold up to three litres of water and cost as much as Rs.600. But teenagers Nikit, Raju and Chetan don’t have that much. They have bought colours for Rs. 150 and have another Rs. 100 left. “We plan to buy more colour powders. No water guns for us, they are for kids!” says Nikit. “We will be laughed at if we play with them.”

Sixty-year-old Shyamlal Daga who chats with a friend by his textiles shop, smiles at the mention of Holi. “When we were younger, this road was almost empty. We would run around with balloons filled with water and hurl it at each other during Holi. We used organic colours such as turmeric. Now the colours are all artificial.”

Bonfire

Shyamlal says that at 6.43 p.m. sharp on March 16, there will be a huge ‘Holika’ bonfire at a temple in the area. “This fire signifies the burning of Holika, the sister of Hiranyakashipu who wanted to kill his son Prahlada,” he explains. The next morning, the celebrations will begin. Colour powder and water balloons will fly as friends and relatives celebrate spring by painting one another in every colour one can think of.

Not just Sowcarpet, people who celebrate Holi from across the city, arrive at this Holi hotspot to shop for coloured powder. Reshma has come all the way from Purasaiwalkam to buy yellow, purple, pink, blue, and green colour powders for her daughter Jaina. Rupendra Kumar from Mannady haggles with a vendor to buy water guns for his two children.

Khimraj, a sari seller, watches as colours change hands and balloons travel in the trouser pockets of kids in school uniform. “Come to Sowcarpet to celebrate Holi,” he says. “But remember to wear something old.”