Our city gets engulfed in the spirit of ‘festivities’ as we like to call it, come August-September. It’s started with Janamashtami or Dahi Handi as it is popularly known and will now continue till beyond Ganeshchaturthi or Ganpati as we all know it. The festive folks swing into a massive frenzy and us common folks can tell it’s that time when the traffic gets worse, the sound decibels get higher, the already congested city feels like it’s shrunk further.
Last week a few of us were to be in Juhu for a birthday dinner. It happened to be the day of Janamashthami. We decided that we should leave from Lokhandwala, Andheri at 8pm to get to Juhu by 8:30-45pm. Sounded like a plan. Till…we got out of one of the Lokhandwala cross roads to only get stuck in a pile up of traffic on the main market lane for the next 35 minutes. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Lokhandwala geography, the market road is the main artery connecting the neighborhood to Lokhandwala circle and Link road and in turn to the rest of the city. On this particular evening, the artery was clogged. Like how!
Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to step out after 15 odd minutes of waiting in the car to check what the holdup was. To my utter surprise, what I saw was a near perfectly made pyramid of human bodies about 200 meters from where I stood, trying to reach the handi tied at a height. You may wonder why I was being so naive at the sight given that it was Janamashtami?
This is why:
1. This road is the only road that cuts across the Lokhandwala market residential complexes. Traffic from all cross roads, there are four in all, filters on to this road for an exit. It has parked vehicles on both sides of the road which leaves the actual usable area for vehicular traffic to be just about enough. In other words, it’s congested.
2. There was a pandal on the left side of the road which was the hub of activity and had a large crowd gathered in front and around it. This was spilling smack bang on to the middle of the road, spreading sideways thus blocking traffic.
Who in their right minds allows permission for such disruptive activities to take place at already congested spots in the city? During peak rush hours at that? Does anybody, evaluate the pros and cons when stamping approvals on requests for such like locations? More importantly, where is the element of festivity in a handful of folks seemingly having fun while others get stranded and are left with no option but to suffer! Oh but, mind you, suffering is not what it is perceived as. It would be termed tolerance or cosmopolitan spirit of the city. When actually, there is no choice whatsoever for people to have a say in being trapped in jamborees like the one described above.
It makes me wonder, does celebrating a festival have to be in blatant disregard of the convenience of others? Does it have to be a crowd sourcing activity? Does it have to involve loud blaring speakers and microphones? And last but not the least, does it have to encourage disrespectful behavior towards women? All this under the garb of festivity? Really? That’s just plain absurd!
I get that we are a large, diverse and rich in culture and tradition people. Each of those, mind you are things to be proud of, I know I am proud of them! Having said that, in the current day and age, culture-tradition-diversity fall as far away from their very essence as possible and that makes me question things!
Let me attempt articulating my thought further, Janamashthami is an integral part of the Hindu culture. It marks the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu. Tradition has it that Lord Krishna and his friends indulged in the handi breaking activity for fun and mischief. This tradition is not limited to just one part of the country, therein lays the diversity.
Switch that to the modern day avatar…the term dahi handi is synonymous with Janamashthami. The game has become representative of the festival. It is anything but a cheerful homogenous gathering of folks singing devotional hymns. These are organized events with official sponsors, political and/or otherwise, who fund the expenses. Loud speakers blast current filmi songs (that seldom have anything to do with the festival) to which the gathered crowd gets jiggy with it. It’s not a show till it’s a large enough crowd to bring life to a standstill? That just about covers diversity!
While the attempt of the organizers clearly is to manage these ‘events’ with as few or no unpleasant instances, inconvenience to the ‘aam junta’ doesn’t seem to be much of a consideration. And of course, the most distressful to witness is the disrespect shown towards women. Be it young boys cat calling, men gesturing or making eyes or just unabashedly and shamelessly staring in the direction of women passing by. Groups travel around in trucks loaded with young enthusiasts giving that disrespect mobility. How is that festive? The attempt is not to paint all in the same brush stroke but more often than not, such gatherings have a nuisance value that takes active refuge in the crowd mass. Does being part of a crowd give folks the license to misbehave?
I get being zestful about festivals. I get the sense in celebration of festivities and community living. I’m willing to respect the concept of tolerance of something on account of a large part of the population believing in an activity. But what I don’t get is how this is either festive, or encouraging community bonding and most importantly, in keeping with the essence of why the festival is meant to be celebrated to begin with.