Monday, November 08, 2004

india

we were told that friday would be the big day. everyone would be gathering on chowpata beach to celebrate dussehra. “everyone” in bombay is not anything like “everyone” you would see elsewhere. take the biggest crowd you’ve ever seen and multiply it by some positive number. or just try to recall the images of mecca on your mind – when muslims are turning around the black box in the middle.

we could not afford to miss such a big thing. we had no idea what it would be all about – first someone told us that they would have a huge god icon which they would throw in the sea. either float it or sink – we didn’t know. we walked along the marine drive to get to chowpata beach around 5pm. it wasn’t really the crowd we were expecting, but it was still quite a lot of people. not having much to do, we started walking around. humidity and hot weather was really hard to support even at that time of the day. more people than ever were staring us now – tens of pairs of eyes watching us along as we moved. you have to get used to this in india – there’s absolutely no way to escape. everyone stares. and they keep staring. and staring. you stare back, and then they do the same. extremely uncomfortable in the beginning but then you learn to ignore. we were standing there on the beach without doing anything when two americans approached us. they were dressed like buddhist monks, with shaved heads and everything. they said they were living in a temple – one came from bangladesh for some reason – quite weird stories indeed – and they gave us books about their belief in exchange for a small “donation”. while all these were happening, we didn’t notice we were probably the most popular group on the beach at that moment. there was a huge circle around us – all staring, some smiling, but mostly saying nothing as usual. maybe hundred people. or more. then the buddhist guys proposed to move ahead so that the circle would leave us, and we did, and then the same circle formed a few metres away, in a matter of seconds. unbelievable. and they stayed and watched silently until the conversation ended and the americans left. they wouldn’t leave then either, if we hadn’t left the place running.

then the night came. people went on watching the play on the stage. it’d been played for the last 15 days now, and dussehra marks the end of it. at the end, ravana, the evil guy, is defeated by rama, the nice king. the play is based on ramayana, the biggest hindu epic. it’s actually more than just an epic, it’s also one of the main religious texts of hinduism. you can check out this address if you’re interested in knowing more. or follow this link for information about dussehra. or just google them.

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well. then we learned that the puppet wasn’t to be floated or sunk – they were going to burn it. we had to wait for a couple of more hours to see the end of the play. during those two hours, the place got more and more crowded, and at one point we felt so claustrophobic that we had to run away and climb a pedestrian bridge to see the biggest crowd we’d ever seen to that date. it was really something exceptional – so many people - and so quiet – not because they were supposed to be quiet, but more because they simply are that way. they always wait and watch, without any reaction. we saw the burning of the huge puppet – something that happens once a year - and at the same time we saw tens of thousands of people once more being soundless and inactive against the entire event. the fire wasn’t out yet when they turned their backs and started to walk out of the place. absolutely no excitement or enthusiasm of any kind. same when they were watching the play though – despite the enormous crowd, noone was pushing each other to get closer to the stage (or to the puppet at the end) – maybe just because they’ve watched the same play and the same puppet for the last few hundred years.


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