Know your `gulal'

MARKING THE arrival of spring, Holi comes annually as a festival of vibrant hues that brings with it a variety of colours. Traditionally celebrated by using natural coloured extracts from seasonal herbs, it has been replaced over the yearsby synthetic dyes, most of which contain a plethora of chemicals. Seemingly harmless, these "pleasing to eye" colours could be toxic with the presence of cheap materials like mica, acids, alkalis, pieces of glass. Swayed by the festive mood, we should not forget that theynot only induce skin disorders like abrasion, irritation, itching but can impair vision, cause respiratory problems and also lead to cancer.

There are three categories of colours available in the market now - pastes, dry powder and watercolours - all of which are hazardous. The hazard increases when these are mixed with oil and applied to the skin and these `rogue' chemicals sneak easily through the skin into the body system. Lead is the most dangerous of all the heavy metals found in Holi colours. It can affect the nervous system, kidneys and the reproductive system. In children, it can affect their physical and mental growth, even in small quantities. If a pregnant woman is exposed to lead, it can be carried to the unborn child and damage its nervous system. It can even result in premature birth, low birth weight, miscarriage or abortion.

Yet another heavy metal of concern is cadmium, which has been classified a probable human carcinogen. If the colour enters the eye, it can damage the ocular surface and cause temporary visual disability, discomfort and complications that pose a great danger to the vision.

If a colour comes in contact with the eye, one should immediately splash it with lot of water and in case irritation persists, medical aid should be sought immediately. While throwing colours at each other, people do not realise that these colours might enter the eye and impair vision. For those who cannot lay their hands on these organic colours, revert to the traditional way and celebrate using `tesu flowers.' These flowers can be boiled and soaked overnight to get a rich yellow colour. Delhiites can buy these from the stalls put up during Holi at Dilli Haat or from Chandini Chowk. If you are not able to find these flowers in the market, try out some household recipes and get some nice shades and colours. Boil the petals of marigold flowers or the peels of pomegranate (Anar) and soak them overnight to get yellow colour. A little bit of effort and you would be playing a safe Holi.