Lalbaug cha Raja, Mumbai, 2014.
What is religion and what is culture? Our understanding and opinion of the same is changing everyday and will continue to do so as time passes. As I write this today, I am witnessing, for the third time, the phenomenon of Ganapati in Mumbai, India. Anyone who has grown up in the country and watched a little bit of Bollywood would know the importance and charm that the festival of Ganapati’s birth (marked by Ganesh Chaturthi) and eventual immersion holds. Having lived in two other parts and three other cities of the country, I can say that there is no other place in the country that celebrates the festival with such oomph.
Before moving here and watching a Bollywood flick called Agneepath roughly four years back, I remember making a mental note to be in the city during Ganapati at least once in my life. Lo and behold, it has become three but, now during the third time the charm seems to be slowly wearing off. I am trying to retrieve it from the recesses of my heart hoping that it might be hidden somewhere underneath the pressures of daily life but, all I see is a momentary thump and tap on the beats of the drums and songs followed by a swift running away with hands on my ears the very next minute.
“Have I become and intolerant waysider?”, I ask myself, scared of receiving an answer in the affirmative.
But, the answer comes in an elaborate questioning of culture and religion and the precarious religious influence on culture. This time around the pandal of Ganesha statues was right next to the building where I stay. Since I am on the first floor, sight and sound came with full intensity. At the start of the festival, what started off as excitement of the upcoming festival turned into a daily nightmare. When done with the day’s work, I longed to be home but, also resented being home since the productive hours of the evening and night would go into dealing with thumping bass from DJ sets, loud breathless singing of aartis, and then even louder music.
Disclaimer – I have lived near Parel before this, close to the home of Siddhivinayak, so not that I did not expect this but, yes, experienced it at a much closer hand this time since the earlier building was a tall tower where my room was conveniently tucked on a higher floor.
Anyway, cutting on my rant, what I am left with at the end of the festival is a question around boundaries between culture, religion and blind following of rituals. I personally do not believe in praying to some external entity and hoping for things to move but, I also understand and respect when others have belief in a God. I also believe that such festivals are also an integral part of our culture – Mumbai wouldn’t be Mumbai without Ganpati madness and Kolkata wouldn’t be so without the gorgeousness of Pujo. However, my question here is – how do we justify following what a god says and believe that we are truly following his / her belief systems, if we fail to take responsibility for the impact that our actions might create on people and other beings in our surroundings. Question is, when someone points out the unnecessary pollution – both water and noise – that these events create, will we harass and bully the, saying the are eco-friendly idols as well and that the questioner is just another adarsh liberal talking about unIndian ideas; or will we pause, think and rework our celebration activities starting next year? I see the youth handling things for the celebrations in most societies. If the youth cannot believe that they can change things or that the way things have to be done culturally has to be adapted to the changes of times, then we better dread what our future would look like.
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Kuch dinon se mann me khayalon ka silsila kuch bhaaga bhaaga sa hai
Aisa lagta hai jaise ki mere andar se kuch chhut raha hai
ek ajeeb sa sannata hai andar
Bahar bahut shor hai, bahut bheed hai
Andar sirf shanti
Sehlaab ke pehle ki nahi, aisa lagta hai ye to uske saath aane waali chuppi hai.
Kaun hun main?
Kaun hai tu?
Kaun hain ye log sab jo aas paas ghoomte hain –
Muskurate hue ya udaas, chup chap ya bolte hue ya bas sar latkaye kahin jaate hue?
Kya hai ye zindagi ka safar aakhir?
Agar iss safar me hi sab kuch hai
To hum ja kahan rahe hain?
For a few days now, the threads of thought in my mind have been running here and there
Feels like, within, I am loosing something / something is being left behind
There is a strange quiet within (me)
There is a lot of noise without, a lot of crowd
Within it is just quiet
It is not the silence before the storm rather, feels like the silence accompanying the storm.
Who am I?
Who are you?
Who are these people who move about us –
Either smiling or sad, quite or talking or just walking somewhere with their heads hanging low?
What is this journey of life after all?
If the journey is what life is
Then where are we going?
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Had this scene in mind with a faint idea of a poem since January 2014. Sometimes the scene came out but, the words didn’t and sometimes the words were fine while the scene didn’t match. Finally sketched this the other night. Text below:
I had seen her every morning,
The lady in white;
Trudging along the pavement.
She would be constantly mumbling.
Maybe, she saw someone?
I would peer at her through the
White lace of mother’s curtains,
My heart thumping with fear –
What if she saw me?
I was eight then.
I left home.
I heard she died one morning,
How did they figure out, you ask?
She wasn’t seen mumbling,
hollow eyes darting, trudging along
for a week.
They say the stench traveled
Till the end of the road.
Why didn’t they go earlier, you ask?
Pope says, ‘Ignorance is bliss.’.
I still dream of her
No, she doesn’t haunt me with
Those empty eyes.
It is the emptiness of her life
That kills me now.
Was reminded of this sort of incomplete poem written a few months ago while talking to a friend about the idea of loneliness tonight. I remember writing this with the thought alienation that an urban life can bring in at times weighing on my mind – the desire to connect with human beings but, the simultaneous hesitation and mistrust to do that ultimately failing to recognise that we are a religious, casteist, regional group later but, a ‘human’ community first.
The concept of loneliness used to be pretty alien (as well as pretty scary) to me earlier especially while doing a project on it for an Archaeology class back in 2012. I remember the five of us dwelling on the concept of loneliness and what people resort to as a coping mechanism. We covered the likes of art as a way of venting out to addiction as another escape. While the former can be cathartic in a way, the latter has worse consequences by way of slowly taking away ‘life’ from a person. Of course, what one implies by ‘life’ can be rather subjective. Precisely why I chose not to dwell on the reason why addiction as a way of dealing with loneliness is not the best idea. I couldn’t really point out which part of the subjective answers to ‘what is life?’ I related to.
However, talking to this one friend today I realise that life means to have the will to move ahead – a step a day maybe, but to move ahead. And I say this not in the ‘move-ahead-only-career-wise’ way of thought (can take it as that too if one pleases) but, essentially to keep pushing oneself to grow as a human being a step a day. Sounds vague? Maybe. But, in each one of us is a tendency (or many tendencies) which makes one unhappy. The will to change that trying harder every time one feels defeated is the essence of life.
Where does loneliness fit in all this? Loneliness stems from the occasional or regular lack of the desire to be better every day. When lonely and lacking in this desire one would loop in that constant feeling of self pity (and anger maybe?) that grabs the focus of the mind so strongly that one cannot think of anything but, being lonely and miserable and unfortunate; totally, forgetting that one is an independent entity with one’s own choices and to choose to not grow and learn is what brings the stagnation that is loneliness.
A friend with memory almost as sharp as mine asked me to describe how he looked when we had first met. The said test for my memory was only because I mentioned that I remembered him wearing an orange t-shirt the first time we had met. After passing the said test, he responded by saying that my memory is a curse.
Of course there have been times when it has been so both, for me and others around. For a minute, remembering all the not – so – good ones, I did imagine that it might be a curse someday! But then, I think its all in the perspective. Life and talents and characteristics all add up to be what you want them to be.
Recently, I put the ‘curse’ to another good use. In the train that I take in the evenings, a hijra called Saira gets in at Bombay Central and out at Lower Parel. She isn’t really pretty in the regular sense of pretty but, has the most beautiful big almond shape eyes that I have seen since my father’s. She somehow has never asked me for money but, makes it a point to look for a second longer and smile before getting into her routine of asking for money and blessing women. Every time before getting off the train, she does touch my head to bless me and walks on.
Like everyone else I know with regular memories or fading memories or those in denial that they remember, I assumed she might have forgotten my face too in the almost a month of being away. The other day when she got in again she quickly gave me the usual smile and asked if all was well at home. She remembered and cared enough to think that I might be missing because I might have gone back to my gaon.
Memory is only a reflection of the openness to or acceptance of the life that you’ve left behind, I think. Yes, scientists and people quoting from random academic papers might counter me but, I can choose not to remember their counters now.
Found this picture on tumblr which led to the following post:
Irony of humour with a pinch of sadness, this.
Kind of brings me to the random thoughts floating in the head as the car flew again on the highway today. I think I am particularly in love with the possibilities in the brain esp when on the move, mostly in the dim glow of the nightly travel. Today(night) was no different. As we drove past the others, my head swam to conversation with a cynical friend one afternoon. According to this friend, one doesn’t have to seek value everywhere and with every interaction. Same thing another cynically inclined friend had said to me. I cannot accept the concept. Nada.
As things go in the flurry of life, I had once tried to make peace with it thinking that I need to learn to accept that some interactions just won’t add value to any life which lead to another spin of thoughts. However, trying and testing the fantastically great number of friends / people I have had the fortune to meet in the past 24 years of existence brings me back even more strongly on my belief – every human interaction has the possibility of it being value creating.
One must not understand this view point as foolishly idealistic / optimistic. I do not claim that all these people will be haloed angels showering you with love at all times. They can maybe but, won’t. Some might be outright negative, some might be quietly indifferent, some manipulative! However, point is, having them around has always brought out some good thing or the other in me. Of course, that also depended and continues to depend on whether I’m open to understanding, realising, accepting and learning or no.
I think everything changes with a smile. Even the annoying aunty in the local.