Thursday, September 27, 2007

Returning To India - The Land Of Festivals

Returning to India hasn’t been as tough as I thought it would be. This is what I wrote to friends I’d left behind in Germany a couple of days back. In Europe they often ask me about my dual life, the one I lead during the months I spend in Europe and the life I lead back in India. In actual fact it is a bit of a pain I suppose, exchanging (among other things) the clean orderly environment of the west for the grimier, garbage filled, chaotic streets of India. Somehow it didn’t seem so bad this time round. I reckon that with time it gets easier, to slip back into the old routine and on this occasion I even found myself luxuriating in the feeling of being home again. Bucket baths, (which I love) being able to eat with your hands, being able to live and work at your own pace rather than to adjust to that of your host in whichever city you happen to be visiting. “I’m happy to be in Bombay again,” I mailed a number of people.

I’d forgotten about Ganesh Chaturti. Two days after flying back from Frankfurt I woke up from my afternoon nap to the dhoom dhoom of a deep bass which sounded like it came from the flat above us. Neighbor’s planning a bash tonight, I thought a bit woozily and went back to sleep. Over the next half hour it got worse. When I finally made my way to the guest room which doubles as my office and which faces the road, I discovered the noise wasn’t coming from the neighbor’s place at all but from the street outside our house.

“Ganapathi”, beamed our maid S at me who had spent the entire afternoon gawking at the spectacle unfolding below. She seemed simply delighted with life. Huge loudspeakers had been set up just outside the gates of our building to welcome the holy procession to the sea which was preparing to start from some enclave close by.

The noise predictably got worse with time. I found I could no longer work. I could no longer think, no longer write, no longer do much more than just listen to the thump and clash which reverberated along the entire street. The drumming and the booming at some point seemed so much like they were happening inside my head that I was threatened by a very real headache. With some luck I found that by closing the door of the room facing the road and escaping into the living room I could avoid about fifty per cent of the furor and even clear up a little space in my brain to think.

What were the festivities about, anyway? Ah, yes it was all centered around this elephant god who was supposed to smoothen your path to success. At times, noise in India brings on an amnesia which makes you forget your own name. The ruckus seemed to make mincemeat of any sense which might have been originally attached to the ritual. It was the birthday of Lord Ganesha wasn’t it. The day on which he was believed to uplift mankind with his very presence. Although Ganesha himself has been revered privately for centuries, the festival was popularized by the freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak, in order to increase people’s awareness of the freedom struggle. Ganesha himself stands for wisdom and intellect. Freedom, wisdom and intellect however seemed to be the last attributes which the horrible sounds emerging from the road reflected.

So what did those sounds reflect? What was the drumming really trying to say, I sat and wondered and it seemed to me, the noise was actually a reflection of the frustration and boredom which characterizes a large part of today’s youth. “I’m going crazy, I’m bored, save me from the burden of repression” seemed to be the main underlying message being banged out by the drum which lacked any sense of rhythm or musical quality. As with so many festivals in India, Ganesh Chaturti too – at least according to me – has lost its original significance. It is no longer about wisdom and intelligence and brings with it none of the sense of peace and sacredness which a spiritual ritual is supposed to be about.

At night, when a couple of huge idols in the vicinity had at last rolled out of sight to make their way to the sea, the world fell silent again. Lying in bed after dinner, listening to crickets chirp and the waves of the ocean lap around the rocks beyond the garden wall I sensed peace making a comeback in my life. In those last few minutes before being overtaken by sleep I felt I was once more in touch with something sacred.

1 comment:

Chandran said...

Welcome back Uma.
This time Ganpati seemed mercifully quieter than previous years (or was I imagining it). Popular culture, I guess has its pros and cons, though I personally experience very little of the sacred in any sort of mass event. And there is of course the matter of the toxic materials they use in most of the idols which adds to the already heavy levels of pollution along our coasts, rivers and lakes.