My Story: Embrace your world – Gauri Misra-Deshpande

Each of us has, at some point of time in our lives, received life advice from our personal life coaches – parents, siblings, teachers, mentors, kids, the vegetable vendor or the stranger sitting on the adjacent seat on the flight. Something that moved you, changed you or made a difference to your perspective forever. India Pages brings to you these slices of life, shared by people from all walks of life … Writers, Photographers, Artists, Television Producers, Hands-on mommies, Entrepreneurs, and Engineers …. Meet Gauri Misra-Deshpande

Indian Colours splashed across the globe

When I was growing up in Mumbai, Holi was celebrated as the festival that marked the end of the cold days and we knew summer would follow in a few months. It was the time to play with bright colors. It was the day to wake up at 5:00am and fill a bucket full of water balloons for a fun-filled balloon fight with neighborhood friends. It was the day that even adults turned into children and no one could have any inhibitions. The color, the vigor, the no-holds barred frenzy – is how I remember this festival. It is one of my favourites! It is the festival with a story relating to the victory of good over evil. And also celebrated for a change of season, a fresh start.

Ever since we’ve shifted continents, in the US, our enthusiastic family of four usually plays Holi in our or a friend’s backyard. Or then we have to drive to Alpharetta or Suwanee for one of the organized events some weekend in March. If we do that, we play Holi with complete strangers — ‘we have our roots in India’ being the only common thread with them.

Holi also means sessions at the children’s classrooms sharing with them the significance of the festival and how we celebrate it with past photos. I take some color powder for my children’s classmates to pat each other on the cheek with and wish ‘Happy Holi’s.
This year, I decided to make Holi a little bit different. More interactive with our immediate community.

Adding a dash of ‘desi’ to global

It all began with a conversation with Mia Manekofskym from the Decatur Public Library. The country of focus this year for the “Embrace your world” program was India and she found an enthusiastic partner in me. We set up the programming for the year and Holi was one of the events we would celebrate along with the local community. The library grant from the Craft Beer festival DeKalb Library Foundation is to be thanked for this. We spent a long time scouting locations and finally settled on the Glenlake park pavilion. We took utmost care to make sure we leave it clean. A plastic tarpaulin and table covers were set up to manage the color spill.

The plan

The food planning was fun and often entertaining. We went to a couple local Indian restaurants to have her sample various delicacies. Mia was a good sport and tried various sweets and savories before setting a menu that was gluten free and mild enough for adults and children who might not have eaten Indian cuisine before. And something that the Indian diaspora in attendance would enjoy as well. We served ‘wada-pav’ (potato dumplings with spicy chutney/ sauce), banana chips and thandai (a milk drink with almonds and spices) came to be the menu.

An addition to the festivities was a living wall inspired by Artist Candy Chang who I had heard speak in the recent past. It would result into something that would hang in the library more permanently. It read “Color makes me…” to be completed by messages by participants. The event was publicized via social media, via the library website and through word of mouth to my friends and friends of their friends. We are certainly a social breed because just with that we got a lot of interest from those from within and outside the Indian diaspora.

The week preceding the event was rainy and as cold as March can sometimes get with temperatures down to 38*F or 8*C. This worried us. What if no one shows up? What do we do with 4 gallons of milk, thandai powder and so much food and color? Many wrote saying they will come weather-permitting. Many interested and few confirmed attendance.

A buzz on Social Media…

Then I posted photos and videos of what to expect when playing Holi on my Facebook page. I also added a video of a famous Indian movie star (also from Quantico) Priyanka Chopra playing Holi with Jimmy Fallon on his show. The social media posts began to show results. Suddenly, there was a lot of buzz and questions whether the event was still on rain or shine. As many as 100 people rsvped for an event organised for 50. And that got us anxious too. What is there isn’t enough color? What if we run short of food or space on the tarp? What if the participants throw color all over the play area. Will we be banned from Glenlake park forever?

Would we really play HOLI?

Finally the day came, it was raining but then right when the event was to begin – it cleared. It was beautiful. No rain, just a nice clean event space. A little chilly but pleasant.There were big rocks holding down a 30x40ft plastic tarp. Bags of color for each person in every vibrant color were ready. There were chips, warm wada pav and cool thandai. And right at 10am, people began showing up. I briefly spoke about the significance of Holi and how we play it. I demonstrated it on the librarian and in turn I asked her to color me — as much as she wanted. She hesitated for a moment. But I nudged her to color me up real good. I splashed orange over her head. She covered me with pink and purple.

That was a liberating moment for her and for many others who had never done this before.

Children came forward first. They happily took the color and put it on each other saying “Holi hai” or “Happy Holi”. Some adults began to take photos and smiling. They were standing at the sidelines and observing. All it took was just a little convincing to get them to participate. Whenever I asked someone to put color on me liberally, it got them to participate and open up. The inhibitions were lost. It was liberating. We were playing Holi with our immediate community. Making new friends, enjoying with old ones. It was hard for parents after a point to figure out which one is their child. As for my children, they could own their dual cultural identity with pride that morning. They could be purple, pink, orange, blue, yellow, green and red… in addition to being ‘brown’.

The season of friendship…

One of my daughter’s friends said she remembered a class session I had had with them 3 years back and so she was looking forward to the event. It made me realise that even the small doses of cultural exposure we give to children can go a long way in increasing their openness to new experiences. And to the differences that make each of us so unique. Today with the atmosphere in the country in regards to immigrants, refugees and anyone that doesn’t look like the majority,

We need to have more celebrations like Holi. Learning opens our minds and makes us less afraid of what is different.

The same colour of ‘crazy’…

A local photographer, Try Earnest who showed up for the event got some beautiful shots of people playing Holi — unabashedly, full of love and light for each other. All in good spirit. The age range of participants was 14 months to 75 years. Everyone enjoyed the experience, the food and the energy. The living wall was filled up with beautiful messages. When we began playing we were all from different races. Towards the end, as we were covered in color from head toe — no one could tell us apart. We were all the same. Crazy color monsters who were enjoying each

About Gauri Misra-Deshpande

Gauri Misra-Deshpande considers herself a global native and is a Mom, Wife, Designer, Educator, Chef, and Curator and believes in Cross-cultural communication, user experience, design, brand development, travel, food and photography. Her philosophy, quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson is “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

My Story: Start The Journey, You Will Reach Your Destination – Neha Bahuguna



About the Author

Suhana Bhatia
Suhana Bhatia
Features Editor