Friday, September 26, 2008

Why the rains in India make so much noise - reason 1

The beauty of religion is the fact that more often than not, there is always a story to explain events. One guiding reason could possibly be the fact that our forefathers wanted to ensure an everlasting interest in our religions. And what better way to achieve that than with an opening line that goes 'Once upon a time'? And perhaps they wanted to ensure that our grandmas had some work to do when they were old! The Krishna story is akin to a pilot episode of any new TV show. More often than not, all grandparents start off their story telling routine to their grandkids either with the Ram story or the Krishna story. I still remember hearing my version of the Great Krishna Story from my grandma one night, as I was busy throwing a tantrum to sleep. (I guess there is a law of conservation of sleep as well, and I am fulfilling the deficiency of the past, with an overdose these days!)

Krishna is one of India’s most loved Gods. His birth and his life are nothing short of a typical Masala Movie! Grandson of a king, his parents imprisoned by his uncle who usurped the throne, born in a prison after six of his earlier siblings were brutally killed by his uncle, born when the Yamuna was in spate, working miracle after miracle to ensure his transfer from the prison to Gokul where he was brought up – who needs fairy tales when Indian mythology is replete with stories like this one?

The miraculous birth of Lord Krishna is what the country celebrates as 'Janmashtami'.

Janmashtami as it is is a fairly quiet event, with prayers offered in temples, delicacies cooked at home, and people staying awake well into the night chanting the Lord’s name. In South India...., there is a practice of drawing baby feet impressions using a paste made of rice flour all over the floor. This symbolizes the fact that the lord had come to the house. So, the foot prints begin at doors, windows and walk all over the house! As kids, it was great fun getting together to draw and make a mess all over the house. And back in villages, where houses run into 10 to 12 rooms and multiple stories, I guess the fun would end making way for a backache the following day! At night in almost all temples, devotees gather chanting the lord’s name well into the night! A small cradle is put up with a small idol of Lord Krishna and with the traditional Arti, the Lord is welcomed into the world. People gather at the temple for the Arti, and then rock the cradle as they would a real human child! The God is officially born!!!

Every parent with a naughty child would like to believe that her son is just like Krishna. Krishna was known to be a mischievous brat, troubling the 'aunties' of the neighborhood by breaking into houses with his friends, climbing the ‘boy-pyramids’ built by his friends, and stealing and eating butter. In today’s world, this is celebrated as Dahi Handi. Well, the butter is replaced by colored water, the climbers are all youngsters who practise for months - in open grounds, trying to perfect the art of standing steady while balancing themselves as they stood on someone else and allowed some others to climb atop them! Sounds bizarre? Yes, the celebration includes public suspension of clay pots on roads at a height of 5-7 stories and trucks of ‘participants’ coming over to try their luck at climbing and breaking the pot. And Krishna got butter in return; these boys get money in return!

So Janmashtami makes so much noise, because these days, the celebrations have begun to be more ‘public’. Well yeah, the minute more than 3 Indians get together, there is bound to be noise! So we have different sponsors putting up earthen pots at different heights. Between buildings, supported by lamp posts, anyhow, anywhere. Middle of the road? Who cares????

Drums and beats to ‘encourage’ the participants as they start the human pillar buildup and ascent, all to the tune of an old Hindi movie song – ‘Govinda Aala re Aala’ ! Speaking of Bollywood, there have been numerous songs starring actors from Shammi Kapoor to Amitabh Bachhan. And these days, in the large pandals offering lakhs of rupees, these people are the star attractions! We have pandals offering Rs. 11,11,111, Rs. 55,55,555 even, depending upon the heights of suspension of the pots. Also, this whole pot breaking routine is a means of making some cool money for lots of young people as they go in trucks as a group, literally ‘breaking pots on the way’! A whole bunch of people spill out of the truck and gather in a huddle. They then mutter a silent prayer and a first group of 10-12 forms by linking arms in a circle. Then the next group of five or six climbs on top of this group and so on. Once the pillar is set and the people look steady, an experienced guy with a small kid hoisted on his shoulders climbs up, and the kid breaks the pot. The beauty is in watching the whole pillar assemble itself and then watch the whole assembly crumble once the job is done!

Once a pot is broken, using a sophisticated pulley mechanism, the pot is replaced and the stage is set for a new batch, a new climb and a new break! The Dahi Handi festival has been a manifestation of the collective ebullience of the population and festivities are a means to get together and literally make merry!

Well, when there is a chance of so much of free publicity, why should politicians let up the opportunity to get noticed? That too during election year? So banners, hoardings, party symbol impressions on t-shirts, sponsors, prizes, you name it, they do it! The result – diverted traffic, although no one complains, splotches of colored water on the roads almost every 100 meters, the same Govinda aala song, multi colored young people, drums and noise……and a whole day of festivity!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why rains in India make so much noise - a preface...

There is an old joke that goes thus.

A Christian, a Muslim and a Hindu were debating the efficacy of their respective Gods, and boasting about how quickly their Gods would come to their rescue if called. The boast led to a challenge and climbing to the top of a high rise, they each decided to jump off only to be rescued by their God!

The Christian jumps off first and screams, “ Jesus, save me.” A divine arm materializes out of nowhere and he is brought safely to the ground.

The Muslim jumps off and shouts, “ Ya Allah, save me!” A mysterious force breaks his fall and he lands on the ground as gently as a feather.

The Hindu now jumps and screams, “Hey Ram, save me.” Nothing happens. “Hey Krishna, save me.” Nothing! Frantically, “Hey Ganesha, save me!” No response. Almost in tears, “ Hey Lakshmi, save me.” No response! He falls to the ground and dies, and heads up to heaven. There he sees all the Gods sitting together, and he is livid. “All of you are right here, and yet none of you wanted to save me? And I had faith in you for all these years!”

The Gods quietly endure the tirade till finally Ram says, “ Well you see, we are so many of us that before we could discuss and decide who should go, you had reached the ground!”

Jokes apart, India – is a secular nation that celebrates all religions and all Gods. So, given the fact that we have so many Gods to worship, it is not really surprising that we have so many festivals. After all, all Gods have a birthday, a coronation day, and seas on 3 sides of the country imply that celestial bodies like the moon, when joined in mood by the sea leads to yet another bunch of festivals. Like one of my foreigner friends once mentioned, Indians just need a reason to make merry. And when we celebrate, we celebrate BIG time! Indians are staunchly religious by nature. As markets plummet, illustrious investment banks of yesterday face bankruptcy today, religious consciousness is at an all time high! And why not? If at least one of the whole lot of Gods decides to listen, the financial world could possibly be resurrected!!!!

So watch out for a chronicle of Indian festivity – Janmashtami, Ganeshotsav, Id, Navratri, Dashera, Diwali, Kaarthigai, Christmas leading up to the new year.

As they’d say in the olden days – ‘Let the festivity…. BEGIN!!!!’

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why rains in India make so much noise....... The first in a series.........

Rains... the topic of countless nursery rhymes, poetry and the mainstay of most Hindi movie songs, chases or key events! Rains are also associated with a certain melancholy or a mood of reflectiveness. Perhaps on account of the clouds that obscure the resplendent sun from view. A silent arrival of raindrops, with just the occasional sound emanating from the brush of water against grass or tree leaves - accompanied by the clap of thunder - is what many hold as a mental picture of rain.

In India, however, rains imply a lot of things. Associated with all things positive, rains signify prosperity, greenery, agricultural bounty, a relief from the scorching tropical sun, the smell of fresh wet mud, puddles to slosh around in, and most importantly - rains imply the official beginning of a slew of festivals! Yes, after a rather plain first half of the year spent battling cold and heat, people welcome the rains with a long list of successive festivals. Devotion and religious consciousness runs high. Take it as a thanksgiving for all the blessings and prosperity that has been showered, or else as a sweet supplication to the almighty for all thing nice and beautiful.

Anyone who has interacted with Indians would know that we are a rather loud population! We believe in living life and making it large! When we are happy, we let the world know that, and how! And in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai, the celebration and its associated enthusiasm reaches feverish levels. The commerical capital of India, the most affluent city of India, home to over a million multi-religious Indians - the variety is humongous. The celebration - even more variegated. Living in Mumbai during this festive season instills a different type of vibrancy in 'Mumbaikars'. The atmosphere is charged, drumbeats resound everywhere. Firecrackers, bands, drums, dancing, singing, yelling - you name it, you see it in India at this time!

Beginning with Janmashtami and culminating in the New Year - this series will talk about the vibrancy and vivacity of festivals in India through the eyes of an Indian. And we'll take a look into - 'Why the rains in India make so much noise!!!!!!'