Holi started with an invitation and ended with a laugh.

I knew there was something special about Viral and Nupur when I observed them on the train to Agra.

At first, they fooled me — he wore western clothes, a typical t-shirt and pants that an avid hiker might choose. Her salwar sung with earth tones, an array of colors for the human eye to feast on. I filed them away as a typical Indian couple.

Nupur, her father & Virul (camera smudged with Holi goodness)

Then they touched, a tender caress that only two people in love could conjure, a rarity between husband and wife in India.  They laughed — gently teasing each other. What I saw were two equals in intelligence and mutual respect.

We began sharing stories during the three-hour train journey, allowing time to melt to nothing. This primed me up — nothing is more fun than learning about someone in a certain place or time.

Their story? They married last June — an arranged one  — yet they discovered kindred spirits, falling for each other quickly. She also kept her last name. Both work for American companies, live in Bengaluru, and traveled to Russia last year for part business, part honeymoon. More importantly, they invited me to spend Holi with them. Agra is Nupur’s childhood home. Double score!

I’ll admit it, Agra was the last place I wanted to spend Holi. It seemed a lonely place to mark a festival. Since volunteering, I’ve felt spent. Even slightly lost on what to do with myself.

But a smile, an invitation, can alter your feelings about wandering for the sake of wandering.

Holi smiles

I knew I found some friends.

Today I woke to see what Holi held. I called from the front desk of my hotel exclaiming ‘Happy Holi!’ into Nupur’s ear. She gave directions to her home and urged me to hurry, for they were waiting for me.

The rickshaw ride there buzzed with citizens on their scooters covered in tribal colors. All the stores were closed. A grinning boy threw colored water at the rickshaw’s front window. We yelped, laughing in surprise. I poked my head out to snap photos.

A rainbow

I had little clue what my driver said as he spoke excitedly in Hindi, only that he was enjoying the day.

In this dusty, nonsensical town of crumbling construction, electronics stores where cows take naps out front — it was clear that location played no part. People are what mattered.

It took us a while to find Nupur’s house, but when we did, I entered the gate wearing something completely impractical — late as usual.

Hee.. me

Instead of disapproval, a mixture of blue, green, and red powder met my face. It’s easy to crack a smile through war paint of happiness. A sensation of baking powder tickled my skin, then a small sting in my eyes as I tried to open them to the noonday sun.

I was promptly lent a ginormous salwar, because a wet t-shirt contest was on the agenda.

The wet look

Viral’s brother from Delhi joined in, head hoser for the main event. He sprayed us, unleashing the giggles in me.

We took cups of water, flicking them at each other. We smeared colors on Nupur’s father, a respected radiologist.

Near the end of this escapade, me soaking wet, my jaw muscles slack from laughter, I remembered what Holi means for Hindus.

When Prahlad showed unwavering devotion to Lord Vishnu, he emerged from the fire-trap set by Holika unscathed,this meant the defeat of good over evil.

Warriors of happiness

That’s the official story — I personally liked Viral’s explanation. Legend states that Krishna was the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu and relished in exacting pranks on the village girls. Soon these pranks spread to all the villagers.

Viral pared it down, by calling these pranks ‘joy’.

Fun is not overrated

After a sound scrubbing, lunch was served with my faves, puri and a homemade pickle mix. I also tried fermented beet juice for the first time. It’s a sour concoction, but full of the salty goodness I adore.

There we were, gathered together. Foreigner and Indian family. For one day, I was part of them.

You know what? Joy rocks the house.