Ah yes, Holi, joyous spring celebration, India’s famous Festival of Colours, a time to sing, dance and make merry with bright colours and music. I spent it the traditional way, holed up at home with a depressed friend, doors and windows shut against the sound of human joy. Just to make sure that our disagreeable mood wouldn’t be polluted by all the gaiety outside, we watched twelve straight hours of House, the television series whose protagonist, genius diagnostician Dr. Gregory House, should be canonised as the patron saint of misanthropes everywhere.
I have heard tales from my parents, whom I consider to be more or less civilised, of the Holis of their youth, when they roamed the streets fuelled by bhang and beer and walked into perfect strangers’ houses to sprinkle coloured water on them in a genial fashion, everyone good-humoured and tolerant and laughing and generally participating in a communal celebration of life, blah blah.
Apparently back then you really played with (as opposed to harassed) anyone whose path you crossed, known or unknown. (And indeed, in my view, the only thing that distinguishes Holi from any other booze-drenched pool party is the merry anonymity of playing with random people on the street. Take that away, and you might as well just have a booze-drenched pool party and save yourself the pickpockets, murderous drivers and rapists of the street.)
Those days are long gone. Now you have to play with a judicious assortment of friends in the privacy of your house or theirs, and hope like hell that nobody slips into an alcoholic coma, or loses an eye because of the chemicals in the colours, or gets non-consensually groped, and that the down on your cheeks will be purple merely for weeks rather than months.
But the larger point I’m making is: The thing about a twelve-hour marathon of House is that very early on you realise that you’re half in love with a sociopath, and just a little bit later, that there’s no doubt that he’s the only man for you. What is it about mean, rude people that is so deeply compelling (and not just Rochester and Mr Darcy), besides the fact that some of them are played onscreen by Hugh Laurie, he of the unkempt stubble and wild blue eyes?
Stupid question—everyone knows what it is. It’s that their constant and unapologetic transgression of social rules, gratuitous viciousness and insufferable arrogance, implies that they don’t give a fig for anyone’s approval, including yours. This is a double whammy to a person’s sense of romantic self-preservation because not only does it bespeak a wounded heart beneath the proud, aloof exterior, automatically triggering the beholder’s Florence Nightingale gland, but it also activates the normal hankering for approval, which most humans will immediately begin fighting to the death to to get. Since both projects are at once unpleasant and impossible to achieve, the whole thing is doomed to self-destruct.
Of course, this is only really likely to happen if the sociopath in question is also intelligent, funny, and attractive. It all results in the creation of a kind of ‘ruthless chic’ which will be horribly familiar to anybody who has ever been in school and had a crush on the bad boy or girl in class. And thus do legions of perfectly balanced, well-adjusted people lock like heat-seeking missiles onto people like House (and duly self-destruct). House’s fans are predictably overwhelmingly female, and I’d guess a fair number of men admire him terribly for that fact alone.
As far as I’m concerned, watching him abuse, manipulate and sneer at the weak, helpless and caring beats playing Holi any day.