Monday, February 25, 2008

Circus of life

What is it about a circus that gets me all dreamy with memory? I think it’s the trapeze artists or perhaps the acrobats, who knows? Like magic shows they are just one of those things which for me, have transcended time. So, it was with the idea of conferring a treat, that I asked my little daughter when she would like to go to the circus. I was completely gobsmacked when she said, “ I don’t want to go.” “Why”, I asked desperate for enlightenment ( oh no, I thought, a child of this generation, she’s lost all sense of wonder). “Will there be clowns?” “ Ah, she’s getting interested, all smiles, yes I answer.
“Then I don’t want to go”. “Why don’t you like them?” I’m mystified. “They make people laugh but don’t laugh themselves.” I was completely speechless- out of the mouths indeed. I tried to distract her, there would be trapeze artists, people flying through the air- no animals, as I knew she doesn’t like animals getting hurt- it came back to the same thing- no clowns? So, like the idiotic adult that I am, I came up with economics- clowns are paid only if we go- they smile when they get their money, etc economics vs sentiment. The child gave me a grave look- Ok she shrugged, but I knew in her heart, sentiment had won.Because she trusted me to be right always, she had agreed- talk of Pyrrhic victories!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lying Like Crazy

What is it about some parents that they want to tell the truth to their children ALL the time? And sometimes one doesn’t even know if things are true or not. Could we see a nano [ cell component] with the naked eye? Could we see God? Do we know He/She exists? Its all a matter of belief. My little kid, came to me troubled. Her friend had told her that Santa Claus had died a long time ago and parents lied while buying the gifts for Santa. She sat hunched over, her little face worried, her eyes big but not so trusting, looking up through her eyebrows, wanting to believe but not knowing if she could. So I told her that it was a matter of belief. Maybe he didn’t visit her friend ‘cos she didn’t believe. Her sister had got gifts till she was 10 when Santa’s mandate ran out. I listed them- a Big Princess doll, an umbrella etc. So would she as long as she believed. St Nick did die , but he was sent back to give kids gifts from the North Pole. She went, happy. My husband & I came up with this theory that little kids need wish fulfillment and belief in magic( witness the popularity of Harry Potter- my kid wanted to marry him!!!). B’days are caught up with clothes and party expenses so Christmas seemed the perfect time to make a dream come true.

Long years ago, two children photographed fairies in the garden. I wish the image had remained unexplained instead of its being exposed as a fraud- paper fairies suspended from wires! Children need dreams of many kinds so they remember to dream when they go up. If Harry hadn’t believed in his early dreams which were all he had of his history, if Gandhi hadn’t dreamt, if Martin Luther King did not have a dream, where would we be?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Of Temples & Celebrations II

There are 3 more temples I need to talk about to give you the whole picture. Some people living on the road- the man used to take loads on his tip, attached to a cycle, with his shaggy dog of indeterminate but cute breed[ of this more later- its got material for a full blog] and the women were rag pickers. They lived on the pavement and in a bid to avoid eviction, they built a temple to Amman, which in course of time was adopted by a local “political” and acquired a mandap of sorts, just painted and decorated with red stripes, common to all temples. For about a decade, they did manage to avoid eviction but eventually, commerce won, the temple stayed and they had to go, though an itinerant vendor of chaat seems to have taken up residence in the corner, with his family.

The other Amman temple in the opposite corner was completely innocuous until the police quarters and the local boys club adopted it. Suddenly last year, the idol grew to about three feet on a high pedestal and acquired awe inspiring colors of red etc. A gaana concert was arranged on the street which my kids enjoyed.

A third temple grew in competition with the old Amman temple, probably as a result of a falling out among the trustees in regard to sharing the collection. So now the slum has two celebrations but this new temple is no match for the old one which is hoary and older residents remember times when only one festival, the Chitirai festival was conducted with priests from the village and folk artists.

A major fracas was caused some years ago[ at the dawn of the millennium] when the Church acquired some members, die hard firewalkers until then. Somehow, cordial relations were restored and the next year, I saw the firewalkers back in the fold in their yellow and red sarees. However, a new custom has been inaugurated since those times- the Christians take out a procession, at the time of the Chitirai festival and we are treated to carols and hymns in Tamil over the loudspeaker and a small group, dressed in their best, takes out the idols from the local shrine[ which sprang up at the same time] for an airing. Sometimes, all this coincides with the muezzin’s call from the big mosque at the end of the street.

There is a big Jain temple, filled with beautiful idols, which for a long time was the tallest landmark, until it and everything else for about a mile was dwarfed by the Accord Hotel.There is also a Sikh temple where free food is served on Sundays. Our neighbourhood- a microsm of India.

A while ago, I read a book about the importance of Hindu temples in the community and economy. Looks like this social function persists to this day.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Of Temples and Celebrations

There are two temples in my neighbourhood. Both are well-established and one has a collection large enough to be taken over by the HR&CE Board. The Amman temple has been there since I began living here,longer than 20 years. The other Ganesh temple has a curious history. There is an old building near a slum.People take a path through its grounds to get to the road. Infact, when the owners wanted to sell the building, locals claimed an easementary right and went to court.The path is still there but info on the case has been swallowed up by time. Twenty years ago, there used to be a lot of old, broken black stone idols on this path. Local children used to defecate closeby, the rain washed them and the sun dried them. As time went by, I noticed the statues disappearing one by one.The antique business was still in its infancy but we reckoned they were probably being disposed off to service the local supply of evening drinks. The temple business was one of the most lucrative, then. Witness our Amman temple which began as a small idol covered by a rude stone arch, under a tree. Flats came up and people began to take an interest as other temples were too far off. We began to celebrate all the festivals. Loudspeakers were hired for the annual fire walking. The local Don took an interest in the collections.A formal shrine was built.Subscriptions were collected and in a ceremony, on the final day, big contributors and the local committee was honoured.

But back to the saga of our Ganesha. He was the last of the idols to leave the path, and to our surprise, one day out walking, we discovered him on the sidewalk, freshly washed, adorned with a white dhoti and a tikka. A metal hundi and the local rickshaw drivers were in business. Soon, as this was the main road and Ganesha was the God of prosperity, more universally acknowledged and not a cult goddess like Amman, the local big business began to patronise him.A brahmin priest was brought in to conduct the services.He got a gramd mandap as shelter, flower vendors took up residence, cars began to come to him for their blessings before their first ride and he had become famous. Ganesh Chaturthi saw performers from the film world and local artists perform! The rickshaw pullers were ousted from the commitee and the HRCE tok over.

What about Amman? The locals were smart.They brought in locals from the big houses on to the Trust. Amman was decked in jewellery and acquired silver weapons and face[ Ganesha had by now been covered in silver with sparkly gems on his forehead]. Leading singers were now invited to her festival and she was taken round in a well decorated chariot. A brahmin priest was brought in.She had arrived!