Thursday, September 10, 2009

Freedom

I’m sick again, and being unable to concentrate at all on studies at hand, I was flipping through a book that my cousin is currently reading and happened to come across a very interesting passage. It was on freedom and the book is ‘The Zahir’ by Paulo Coelho. Just then Komal called and after talking to her on the same subject on similar lines, I thought I would share this interesting passage with everybody else.
The author’s view could be debatable, I don’t know. But it struck a chord – do read till the end.

I’m free. I’m out of prison; my wife has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. I have no fixed timetable for work; I have no problem meeting new people. I’m rich, famous, and if Esther really has left me, I’ll soon find someone to replace her. I’m free, independent.

But, what is freedom?

I’ve spend a large part of my life enslaved to one thing or another so I should know the meaning of the word. Ever since I was a child I have fought to make freedom my most precious commodity. I fought with my parents who wanted me to be an engineer not a writer. I fought with the other boys at school who immediately honed in on me as the butt of their cruel jokes; and only after much blood had flowed from my nose and theirs, only after many afternoons where I had to hide my scars from my mother – because it was up to me not her to solve my problems – did I manage to show them that I could take a thrashing without bursting into tears. I fought to get a job to support myself and went to work as a delivery man for a hardware store, so as to be free from that old line in the family blackmail: ‘we’ll give you money but you have to do this, this and this.’

I fought – although without success – for the girl I was in love with when I was an adolescent, and who loved me too; she left me in the end because her parents convinced her that I had no future.

I fought against the hostile world of journalism – my next job – where my first boss kept me hanging around for three whole hours and only deigned to take any notice of me when I started to tear up the book he was reading: he looked at me in surprise and thought that here was someone who was capable of persevering and confronting the enemy, essential qualities for a good reporter. I fought for the socialist ideal, went to prison, came out and went on fighting feeling like a working-class hero – until, that is, I heard Beatles and decided that rock music is much more fun than Marx. I fought for the love of my first, second and third wives. I fought to find courage to leave my first, second and third wives, because the love I felt for them hadn’t lasted and I needed to move on, until I found the person who had been put in this world to find me – and she was none of those three.

I fought for the courage to leave my job on the newspaper and launch myself into the adventure of writing a book, knowing full well that no one in my country could make a living as a writer. I gave up after a year, after writing more than a thousand pages – pages of such genius that even I couldn’t understand them.

While I was fighting I heard other people speaking in the name of freedom, and the more they defended this unique right, the more enslaved they seemed to be to their parent’s wishes, to a marriage in which they had promised to stay with other person ‘for the rest of their lives’, to the bathroom scales, to their diet, to half-finished projects, to lovers to whom they were incapable of saying ‘No’ or ‘It’s over’, to weekends where they were obliged to have lunch with people they didn’t even like. Slaves to luxury, to the appearance of luxury, to the appearance of the appearance of luxury. Slaves to a life they had not chosen, but which they had decided to live because someone had managed to convince them that it was all for the best. And so their identical days and nights passed, days and nights when adventure was just a word in a book or an image on the television that was always on, and whenever a door opened they would say:
‘I’m not interested; I’m not in the mood.’

How could they possibly know if they were in the mood or not if they had never tried? But there was no point in asking; the truth was they were afraid of any change that would upset the world they had grown used to.

The inspector says I’m free. I am free now and I was free in the prison too, because freedom continues to be thing I prize the most in the world. Of course this has led me to drink wines I did not like, to do things I should not have done or would not do again; it has left scars on my body and on my soul, it has meant hurting certain people, although I have since asked their forgiveness, when I realised that I could do absolutely anything except force another person to follow me in my madness, in my lust for life. I don’t regret the painful times; I bear my scars as if they were medals. I know that freedom has a high price, as high as that of slavery; the only difference is that you pay with pleasure and a smile, even when that smile is dimmed by tears.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ganapati Bappa Morya

Contd from Silence plz…

It was almost as if I was waiting for Anant-chaturdashi to write about the Ganesh festival of Mumbai. I had heard tales of this day from my cousins and many friends. It’s the D-day for the Ganesh festivities here – the 11th day where most Ganesh idols are collectively immersed on the Mumbai coastline. The sight is a one to watch!

The final aarti takes place and the processions start in the early afternoon. These processions are very similar to a typical Hindi film wedding barat only minus the designer dresses and jewellery. People dance, play numerous instruments, the most popular being the dhol, around the idol. And the idol, magnificent and standing tall and towering is taken in pick up trucks moving at snails pace. I dint have to go far to see it. Just sitting in my aunt’s living room window was enough to provide a wide view of numerous such barats.

Expectedly, it’s also a day of the worst traffic jams in the city. My cousin took his bike to work today, skipping the company bus. He said it would be easier for him to navigate through traffic and hopefully that way he’ll be able to make it back home before dawn. And even as he stepped out of the door, he left dire warning ringing in my ear to study in the morning and not to leave much for the evening. I took him very seriously – after Gokulashtami, I would have been a fool not to do so.

And so, I spent the better part of my evening sitting in the window watching people covered in gulaal dancing to the tuneless beat of the drums. I tried very hard to try to decipher one of them and I think it was ‘Mungda’… but I can’t be sure. Well, as long as they don’t play stupid Bollywood songs on the loudspeakers, I knew I would be just fine.

When I was in Pune a couple of years back for my studies, I would run back home during Ganesh celebrations. Every street would be blocked by pujas being performed where cars should be running, loudspeakers blaring all over the place and rangolis decorating the sidewalks leaving no place for pedestrians. And as an art lover I have to say this – it would be heart breaking to walk over somebody else’s beautiful hard work.

In Pune, there is a Ganesh temple at every nook and corner, 2 of them were just outside the hostel where I stayed, separated approximately by 10 metres. And it meant that every month for Sankashti and Ekadashi, nobody slept peacefully in the hostel. There would always be a fierce competition between the two groups to demonstrate who owned the loudest music system. It would reach such unbearable decibels that we would go complain to the rector and she would go scream herself hoarse at them and the music would be lowered to a respected volume. But after half an hour, we would be back to square one. By the end of the day, the rector would be too tired to do anything and we would get an earful if we even uttered a C of complaints.

Au contraire, in Goa, Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in peace. Every house brings its own Ganesh idol and private celebrations go on all over the state. At my natives, Chaturthi means delicious smells of various delicacies wafting through the house, family members all sitting together for the aarti with taal, decorating the makha√≠(the place where the idol is placed), drawing beautiful rangolis, collecting durva(the three leaved green grass specially offered to Ganapti) and many such small and wonderful rituals right from the day when the idol is brought in to the day we sadly bade him goodbye. It’s the time for family members to get together and have fun. After spending the entire day would be spent in preparations, all us cousins would then sit and play card late into the night.

Ah! Good old memories…
I never thought I’d miss this festival until I actually had to miss it. This is the first time I’m spending Chaturthi away from home.

Anyway, I’m not a very religious person and my knowledge of festivals and rituals is extremely limited. But I always thought faith was a very private thing. And festivals were only an excuse to celebrate it, bringing happiness and abundance in life. Really is that what festivals are meant for nowadays?

At my mum’s ancestral house, we have the same idol that we worship year after year. A few years back, I had asked my uncle, why is it that we don’t immerse the idol in the well like everybody else? And he had told me that a great deal of effort is involved in digging wells and such other wells, or streams, ponds and lakes are a source of clean drinking and irrigation water; and so it would be a shameful act to pollute them plaster of Paris statutes or even block them with clay idols.
Such is the kind of respect I learned not only for our festivals but also for the life sustaining nature from an early age. So it kills me to see that people cannot apply the same simple principles everywhere.

The festival spirit in people here is tremendous, but so is the disregard for others convenience. And nobody thinks about the kind of pressure we put on our environment. Sure, the energy and the mood they bring in is incredible but so is the level of noise and air pollution. And what happens to the ecosystem when these ‘Plaster of Paris’ idols are immersed in our seas? And what when broken parts of these idols of faith are washed off to the shore where they are cruelly left to rot along with other garbage and debris?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against festivals; I’m just against the way they are being celebrated.