Friday, October 31, 2008


The Day of Pollution

I have never been a fan of fire-crackers. As long as I can remember I have disliked all sorts of loud-sounding chocolate bombs. As a matter of fact I have been afraid of them. Somehow they have always represented an atavistic, ultra-barbaric exposure of the malevolent subconscious. As a quiet and (somewhat cowardly perhaps) peace-loving man I have always looked at the days of Kali Puja and Deepavali with apprehension. Whereas Deepavali the festival of lights has always fascinated me, the noise and the tendency of throwing fire-crackers at people, vehicles and animals have repelled me. This Kali Pujo I was as usual homebound (keeping myself bound in my home), stepping out for the community thing only. If you have ever been in Kolkata then you will know what to expect on a day like this. Hundreds of people find themselves in hospitals with degrees of burn injuries, some self-inflicted, others mass-conflicted. And the air becomes unbearable. Throughout evening and night there is a thick layer of gunpowder smoke covering everything – this is not the T.S.Eliot yellow urban Prufrockish smoke – but the smoke of burning frustration released through petty acts of apparently harmless violence. I believe that in this one day we achieve as much pollution as in the rest of the year. I do not mean to be a spoilsport, but some sports should be spoiled. This is the evening when the fantastic amount of anti-legislative impulses (that we usually hide) comes out. There is a secret pleasure in using contraband, and contrary to all ban all kinds of minor explosives are used! Each year there are hundreds of arrests, yet people defy the law. The Law has become more of a challenge.

Right to Awaken

Recently there is an advertisement of some Tea Company that shows a few young boys distributing tea in a (cinema?) queue apparently trying to awaken the en-queued. When one lady finally protests saying she is awake, the main boy says “Election ka din agar up vote nehin de rahen hain to up so rahen hain” (“If you are not voting on the day of election then you are sleeping”). I guess it is very noble and awareness-provoking among the youngsters. But what they are missing is that all citizens have the right of not voting or canceling their votes. The attitude of the boys at the end of the advertisement presents a very disturbing face, a face of being ultra-self-righteousness that brings in all the extremes in a person. It also shows the coercive face of Indian politics. No one should tell us whether we should vote or not vote.

Monday, October 13, 2008

At Random

Durga Pujo ends. Lights, lightings, idols, pandals, pandal-hoppers, crowds, relaxation of curfew for youngsters, death for the emergency cases stuck in traffic, new clothes, new shoes – the great Bengali festival ends. The consolation prize of Kali Pujo, with all the crackers and rockets and goat-meat and booze, remains in the offing. The single time when the regressive (as against aggressive) Bengalis taste the Carnivalesque is gone for this cycle of seasons. Gone for another year – Kali Pujo immersion being slightly lesser – is another opportunity for the great Bengali hip-shaking.
For the first time in my life I spent almost the entire Pujo involved in a Marriage ceremony. Usually there is no good ‘muhurat’ (auspicious date) during this particular time. But since it was inter-provincial there were no rules, actually a jumble of them. A Bengali man was marrying a Punjabi woman. My relationship with the Punjabi family in question is quite interesting. Her husband (the man – obviously – from our side) is the brother of the husband of my wife’s elder sister. Technically her family is my in-laws’ in-laws’ in-laws. I found myself – though practically unrelated to the groom – in a position of seriousness, as my own brother-in-law is no more and men in that family are something of an endangered species, I had to take the role of an Elder. I am younger than the groom. But I had to spend a lot of time involved in plenty of rituals, though I often found myself in very difficult situations. These came whenever I was asked what manner of relation I shared with the groom. Explaining all this to Punjabi elders in Hindi is something that even I faltered in. After about six tries I settled for the ‘friend’ tag – though I can safely say that that is not quite the case! My Hindi is workable up to a point, and this whole occasion pointed out that point rather effectively.

The other point that stands true for most Bengalis, and which I think is a major factor in Bengali-ness, is the inability to dance. The Punjabis were dancing to their hearts’ content, without any frigidity, and we were falling short in every step. Feeling not unlike Pappu from the song “Pappu can’t dance....” This gave me a profound realization. One of the reasons Bengal is so much in the backwaters right now is that there is no popular dance form – Rabindra Nritya is something many Bengali girls and boys learn but that is semi-classical, if not neo-classical. The popular description of it is changing bulbs or picking flowers.

Whatever it might be, it is not something that one can instinctively engage in when in a festive mood. As a matter of fact one may say that dancing is not really in Bengali blood. Bengalis still are extremely in love with the ‘intellectual’ tag – they would rather blog than dance! Take me for instance, I would love to go down to the dance floor and thrash about like a person having an epileptic fit. But I simply can’t. Every year that I go on immersion processions I see plenty of my friends and others – some inebriated by the dhaak, some in good spirits and vice versa – shake like nothing else in the world. I want to join, but something holds me back. This something, thankfully, is slowly losing its grip over recent generations. Although I am not against intellect or cerebration, but there should always be a balance. One must learn to think, and one must also learn to act. Too much of something is as bad of too much of nothing.
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