An obstacle course for worshipping a remover of obstacles

‘tis the season of festivals and among the first to be worshipped is the elephant-headed deity who removes obstacles. Like any element of life that wishes to remain au courant, worshipping this god has changed with the times. And the Man from Madras Musings is left wondering if all change is for the good, especially with respect to this divine being and the mass-based adulation he enjoys.

MMM has already lamented a year ago on how public worship of this lord tends to happen at the most inconvenient locations – busy traffic intersections, narrow street corners and near hospitals and schools. And before anyone pounces on MMM and says that he is elitist for he wishes to sacrifice tradition for the sake of traffic movement, let him assure one and all that public worship of this deity is not all that much of a tradition and is just about a 100 years old, a little younger in fact than the automobile. And so, the motorised vehicle has in fact more of a heritage than the pandal-based adoration of the single-tusked idol. And that is really not the focus of what MMM has to say. (“Get on with it then”, says the Chief impatiently)

Once the puja is over and the loudspeakers have been silenced, the task that remains is of the disposal of the image, which is traditionally done in a water-body. Now that most lakes in the city have become housing colonies that flood during the rains, and the rivers are all gutters in which no religious-minded person would think of immersing a much-loved idol, the only place left is the sea. And that automatically implies that every image has to be brought to the Marina on an appointed day and at an appointed hour. Or, as is conveniently interpreted by those who spiritedly worship (sometimes immersed in spirits as well), the immersion can happen any time on the appointed day.

And so, the weary police force assembles on the Marina, to keep a watchful eye on the immersion proceedings. From somewhere around noon, the idols are brought to the beach. As each organiser thinks that he/she/it has to put up the biggest image possible, all of these have to be brought in trucks for immersion. The carbon footprint of this process apart, there are several other obstacles. Firstly, the flyovers put up rather appropriately when an atheistic party was in power, offer considerable resistance. Most of the trucks have a difficult time negotiating the space under the flyover and at times there is no option but to partially demolish the deity to allow for passage.

Then there are the other road-users who unfortunately have to wait while the lord moves in stately fashion to the sea. Those who are conveying him to the waters shout, dance and sometimes also indulge in lewd and obscene gestures especially when they espy a woman driver in the traffic. For some reason, some of the spirited worshippers have chosen to interpret this festival as a variant of another one, usually celebrated in the North with colours. So they throw colour powders as well, much to their own amusement and the discomfiture of those passing by. And at times, rival organisers indulge in a race to the sea, with vehicles attempting to overtake each other in a reckless dash to the finish (all puns fully intended).

MMM noticed that the deities sported a uniformly serene expression. Perhaps they were looking forward to an undisturbed time at the bottom of the sea.

Off with their heads

The beach is where everything appears to be happening these days and certainly you will notice from these writings that the Man from Madras Musings had been frequenting the Marina quite often. Never a dull moment on the sea front is what MMM finds. On one day you find a group of protestors, er.. protesting against the capital punishment being meted out to a trio who it is said aided and abetted in the assassination of a national leader several years ago. And then a few days later there was this protest against the protest that protested against the awarding of capital punishment. Go hang yourself appeared to be the motto of the latter group.

While the motives behind the two protests appeared to be diametrically opposed to each other, the modus operandi was identical as MMM noticed. Both involved the congregating of the followers of the respective causes, complete with placards bearing slogans in support of their stance. Then after several cups of tea and a desultory holding up of banners, everyone suddenly galvanised into action. The media, particularly the TV cameras, were on their way. As the cameras rolled, fierce expressions were used, slogans shouted and chests beaten. The police, rather like the time when the elephant-headed god was wending his way to sea, kept a watchful eye on the proceedings.

Someone somewhere appeared to have broken some little known law and then all mayhem broke loose. Police vans appeared and everyone courted arrest. The traffic which had slowed down considerably now practically ground to a halt. As the faithfuls to the cause boarded the police vans, MMM noticed all of them laughing and joking. Some even waved to the TV crew who were busy filming the event. And so that was that. Something ventured, something done. Tomorrow would be another day and yet another protest perhaps.

A couple of days later MMM was driving by and noticed a few posters, all of them thanking the highest power of the State for having ‘rescinded the capital punishment’ awarded by the High Court. Heaven knows where such optimism came from for the State Assembly had merely adopted a resolution demanding that the sentence be commuted. If only life was as simple as all that these protesters and poster designers imagine it to be.