One of Nital Subhas’ earliest memories is being on a plane for the first time with her aunt and sister, drinking Coca-Cola. While being permitted to drink the sugary beverage felt notable to a 5-year-old Subhas, the trip had an even greater significance: She was immigrating to the United States to join her parents, who had arrived a year prior.

Now, many years later, Subhas continues to celebrate her culture—and share it widely. Subhas recently co-authored a book about Holi, the popular festival of colors that marks the beginning of spring in South Asia, primarily India and Nepal. This year, Holi is today (March 8).

Cover art of Can We Throw the Colors Yet by NItal Subhas
Cover art of Can We Throw the Colors Yet by NItal Subhas

Subhas, administrative director for clinical research education programs in the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, collaborated with friend and CWRU alum Nivi Engineer to write Can We Throw the Colors Yet? Their children’s book tells the story of Juhi, a young girl who looks forward to her family’s Holi celebration but learns that things just aren’t quite the same as they are in India.

Though writing a children’s book is nothing like the work Subhas does administratively managing the Master of Science in Clinical Research and PhD in Clinical Translational Science programs, she relied on personal experience to create the narrative.

Subhas and Engineer both immigrated from India, and as children, never questioned why they were celebrating or “throwing colors.” But things changed when they had children.

“When Nivi and I grew up in this country, it wasn’t as diverse—or at least it didn’t feel like it was as diverse as our children have it now—and now everyone is celebrating different holidays, such as Chinese New Year and their own culture and background,” Subhas said. “And by publishing this book, we want to let children know it’s OK to share your culture with others and have others learn from it.”

Photo of Subhas covered in colored powder after attending Holi.

Held in March in India, the hallmark of Holi is the throwing of colored powder or water at one another. But March in Ohio isn’t typically ideal for such an event, so Subhas hasn’t celebrated the day in its traditional sense in many years.

The last time she remembers being fully covered in colorful powder for Holi was during her undergraduate years at The Ohio State University. Subhas reminisces about that experience, and how it was full of a shared understanding of what it meant to celebrate the holiday.

Now, Subhas hopes to bring that feeling to others.

“We want our children to be global citizens, right?” Subhas asked. “We want them to have a perspective that’s not so narrow. We want them to know that there’s not just one way of doing things and to be respectful of others.”

Want to “throw the colors” like Juhi? Case Western Reserve’s Center for International Affairs will host its own Holi celebration Saturday, April 15. Get more details and learn more about the holiday. But first, see how Subhas answered our five questions.

1. What is your biggest personal goal for 2023?

What I really want to do this year that I’ve put on the backburner for a really long time is to volunteer more. For many reasons, I haven’t had time, and I think it’s super important to give back to the community and for our children to see.

I used to volunteer before and I really enjoyed it. It was something I did with friends. I just need to get back into the swing of things and find something that really is meaningful.

2. How do you like to spend a day off from work?

It depends on the time of year, but if I had a day off, I would plan to go to the gym in the morning and have lunch with a friend, and go for a walk or do some gardening—maybe catch a movie. That’s optimistic. That would be my plan today.

I think what would [really] happen is I would have to go run some errands, binge watch a show, and stay inside. Get some takeout, stuff like that. 

I think what I would end up doing is somewhere in between.

3. Who has inspired you most in life?

The reality is there’s not just one person. We moved around quite a bit when I was young, all within Ohio, but different cities. We probably moved around every three or four years. After college, which is where I met my husband, we moved around after we got married quite a bit also because of his training. So what I’ve learned is that every place I went, I met so many different, inspiring people that have many different backgrounds and experiences.

It’s not really one person who’s inspired me. It’s a collection of everywhere that we’ve been, all the experiences that they’ve had, that they’ve shared with me.

4. Where would you most like to travel next?

As a family—I have two boys—we decided many years ago that we wanted to visit all seven continents. We have yet to go to Australia, Antarctica and South America. This won’t happen for a while, but I think it might be Australia next.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

I started in August 2020. I was just talking to someone about my first day, because we’re onboarding a new employee, and I remember my first day at Case [Western Reserve] and it was literally a six-hour Zoom call with my supervisor. So I started remotely, and there wasn’t much of an opportunity to get to know my colleagues. 

Now that we’re back in our offices, I love love, love, meeting everyone. I love meeting different people. I love listening to them and talking to them and hearing about [them]. I like the diversity here. I like the opportunities that CWRU has to offer.

And just being around students, I think that’s a whole different perspective, as I’m way past my college years. Being surrounded by college students, the energy is just different, right?