The Great Hindu Festival
I got off the call with my boss - she wanted me to visit our Malad office on a Monday. I frantically rushed towards the calendar and pretended to know what I was searching for. After a couple of seconds I yelled out "Mummy!". "What day is it on Monday? Which day?". Mom stared at me like she usually does when I'm belligerent and shook her head. "Ganesh Chaturthi. Which day is it on Monday? Will there be a visarjan!?". She said yes. Fifth day. My heart sank.
Monday. Visarjan. Malad. My head was spinning already. My visit to the Malad office from Navi Mumbai takes an average of five hours out of my day. If any of my visits coincided with either of the four visarjans, I'll be the one coming home pudchya varshi. For those who still didn't get it, Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the biggest festivals in India, especially in Maharashtra. But it also one of the scariest ones if you aren't part of the celebrations.
Nowadays, if you ask any urban millennial in India (they are too cool to vote so their opinion doesn't really count in the grand scheme of things) about upcoming Hindu festivals, they will let out a groan. Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Karwa Chauth, Navratri (Dandiya according to some) and of course Holi are festivals that have come under the scanner in the past five years especially with the rise of social media. Noisy, polluting, pointless, patriarchal and unnecessary are some terms used to argue against the way we celebrate some of our favourite festivals.
It's true. Our festivals are noisy. Our festivals do pollute. They go on for too long. And here's my question. So? Do we roll over and stop them? Do we discard their importance in our lives, our culture and our nation? I am not the hyper aggressive nationalist types but I am sick and tired of my festivals being painted as some sort of a scourge. The fact that our festivals are so uniquely noisy, colourful and go on for weeks is what makes them special. Now am I saying let them be as they are? Let us all delude into thinking that Diwali doesn't cause major noise pollution and Ganesh Chaturthi doesn't cause environmental damage? Or pretend that Dahi Handi during Janmashtami isn't one of the worst times to go out on the road? No. What we can do is act sensibly and find a middle ground.
But before we do that, let us establish something. What is a festival and why are they necessary? A festival is a celebration by a group of people who believe in the same thing. It is an outpouring of positive energy from a bunch of people who share the same identity. With or without religion, human beings will celebrate. Religions just help them scale up to a state/ national/ international level. What's the difference between New Year's eve and Christmas, Eid and Diwali? Made up events celebrated at roughly the same time every year by a group of people who care enough to participate in it! Why do you celebrate your birthday? It adds flavour to life and gives us a reason to bring friends and family together once a year! Without festivals, people won't bond. They won't have a common thread.
Anyway, now that we have established why festivals are necessary, let's try and understand the unique role of festivals in India. We as a country and especially we as Hindus are a khichdi (I refuse to use the term melting pot) of religions and identities. Our festivals are one of the very few things which unite us momentarily and we mustn't trivialise their importance in the grand scheme of things. But the persisting argument is, should our festivals evolve? Yes, they should. But without stripping them of their core identity.
Holi without water, Diwali without crackers and Ganesh Chaturthi/ Navratri without the noise demand the young voices on social media sitting in their cushy urban apartments with an AC for every bedroom. While I completely agree with regulation of decibel flouting cracker sales during Diwali and set timings/ rules for Ganesh Chaturthi/ Navratri celebrations, I am completely against branding these events as a nuisance perpetrated by the ignorant. Our festivals need not ape the style and tone of other festivals celebrated across the world. What we need to do is strike a balance.
And it is already happening! I remember five years ago, every street corner of Kharghar had its own Ganpati pandal. They used to set up the pandal taking up half the street and blare Bollywood items numbers. It was a disgrace. The streets were perennially and horribly jammed during days of Visarjan and the noise was non stop. It was quite an unpleasant experience if you weren't an active participant of the celebrations. But over the last half a decade, I have seen the number of pandals more than halve, their location restricted to only grounds and footpaths (basically no encroaching roads), the decibel levels strictly regulated and most importantly, traffic during days of visarjan expertly controlled by the cops.
In fact, just a month ago, the Chief Minister of Maharastra said "Lord Ganesh does not need DJ-Dolby". It was a moment of pride for me because it showed my state's CM was a pragmatist and a progressive Hindu. Neither a blind traditionalist nor a self hating pretentious poser. One must always be proud of their identity. But one must also be in sync with the times. So let's all go for Eco-Friendly Ganpatis and other such solutions but let's not erase our culture by wiping out the core of our festivals.
I write this as Navratri is celebrated across the country. A big deal in Mumbai/ Navi Mumbai, I still remember crying into my book at 1 am, six years ago. It was nine hours before my exam and I just couldn't concentrate as the music from the nearby Falguni Pathak tribute performance blared unchecked. Today, the authorities have ensured such liberties with the rules aren't taken. And that's where I would like to conclude.
My Monday in Malad was done. It was post 7 pm and I had to catch a rickshaw towards Andheri station. I expected to reach home by midnight. I reached Andheri station in the same time it would take me on any other day. How!? Mumbai Police. They had demarcated zones for the visrajan processions and had provided adequate security to ensure a smooth evening for all parties involved.
Was it noisy? Yes. Slightly inconvenient? Absolutely. Was it necessary? You can bet my modak on it!