24 October 2004
At what point do realisations turn into practices, then into traditions and rituals and finally end up as dry habits? What happens to the civilisation when its beliefs become reduced to mere badges? When it has given up its faculty of thought, volition and discretion? When history reigns but not historicity? These questions confronted me as I read about the significance of Durga Puja in a local daily last week.
Not that one has not read or, for that matter heard, about it before. It has been a staid affair, just a tale told by grandpas to little sleepless kids. But this was one of those occasions when understanding, without a warning, opens and the routine drops its mask of familiarity. All the lights, buzz and glitter suddenly release a different set of explosions in the head.
The gaudy goddess jumps out of the soiled poster on the wall of the barber’s shop. She descends to destroy the demons. Riding on the wrathful cat, the terrible beauty wins the battle with the beasts with a Monalisa smile. For each of the 10 days, she assumes a different identity. Until the Maa arrives. Bijay Dashami - the climax. We celebrate victory - the victory of good over evil.
It’s a victory celebration. In the beating dhaks, the ape rears up to pound its chest after vanquishing those after children's lives. It’s been a deadly duel; the celebration is passionate, and the joy. She has been coming every year exciting us mortals. We have offered a hill of decapitated animals. Every year the evil has been defeated, until we forget about it. We do not care anymore. Because it is only a forgotten story summed up in terse “Happy Pujas!” of greeting cards.
We have other “victory celebrations” too. The term inevitably reminds us of the other dhol and dhak beating ritual - called victory celebration - by our leaders. A deadly criminal sitting in jail won by over 2 lakh votes in Bihar last week. His supporters staged a delirious victory celebration. These have become more real than stories.
Mikes have been blaring mantras and bhajans all over the town. The Pujas are not as elaborate as in the plains, but it is getting here. May god not turn a deaf ear to these amplified supplications. Like every year, the DGAHC and the Darjeeling Municipality have set up an 18-handed goddess at Chowrasta. Their boss - political boss, for the municipality - has decreed the celebration. It feels like a dirty joke: for under 16 long years of his rule, mostly evil has won. The good has been silenced. “Happy Pujas!”
But he is a religious man; and we are a religious people. And between our rituals and our realisation, there lies a tragedy. Amidst all the puja of Durga, what we see is the boot of Evil on the face of Good, stamped so hard. We do not have the will to do anything about it. Our pujas do not inspire us anymore. They are just a time for self-indulgent celebration, in the name of God. Victory? What victory? Durga is just a gaudy goddess on the soiled poster at the barber’s shop.