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.
Have been wanting to write on the idea of home for months now but, could not really get the words flowing.
I remember understanding home to be the house and times from childhood – such as a stray memories of coming back to the coolness of the house on a hot summer afternoon with a glass full of cold of Rasna ready in the fridge – essentially linking the idea of home with nostalgia. However, today that feeling of being ‘at home’ has come far away from that nostalgia as well which brought the question to the fore again, what was home exactly. I remember the feeling coming first while watching the sun rise or while watch trees go by as I moved further on the highway. This strange feeling of comfort was something that I did not understand then but, fell in love with deeper than the last time.
Comprehension dawned in another city which was alien and distant when seen from outside on a particularly breezy evening which complemented the warmth emanating from the setting sun’s rays. The joy which was felt in that moment was exactly the same that my mind had so far associated with nostalgia of home. That is the moment that mind started seeking to understand – the idea essentially was to understand and think through the concept of ‘home’ – in lieu of the constant tussle in my head as to where was home for me as so far the head believed home only to have a place in nostalgia. Was it a place, a person, an experience, a time or was it, after all, the version of self one is most comfortable being? Was it not the spatial or time based understanding? Questioning and looping in the same thought process for some time, I left the question hanging again since there did not seem to be a concrete answer whatsoever.
The thought process sprang back to action last Thursday after visiting an exhibit of four artists who basically express the idea of home in urban dwelling today – looking at smaller spaces, killing of natural and open spaces to build concrete jungles etc. The idea around which the question of home and spaces as represented in a few art works was more around the developmental critique of mindless urbanisation, creation of gated communities at the cost of a ruined environment and the foolish association of culture and status with being a part of these gated communities.A few strips from the latest series of Adarsh Balak (literal: the ideal male child) – the only one artist I knew of before visiting the show – were also up for display. His work being presented at the exhibition talking about ‘home’ is precisely what got the cogs of the machinery in the brain running. I won’t really get into the varied topics around urbanisation, environmental concerns etc. here – more on the show later in another post.
Going back to the point of this post. What is home exactly – I think home is a feeling that you associate a place, house, person, time with that makes you happy, that really soothing feeling of contentment. It could be anywhere, with anything being the trigger of contentment but, essentially, home is where one is absolutely happy – be it alone or with people or in communion with nature.
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.