This is a day for bonding and easing into the celebrations. As per tradition, married ladies fast on this day, in empathy with Parvati or Gouri, Ganesh’s mother. This is a day dedicated to the Goddess and to Mahadev or Shiv, her husband and also our family deity.
My camera’s roving eye found various groups of people in conversation, in camaraderie over activities like cooking or decorating or, in the case of the children, on burning firecrackers! Looking back at the pictures I clicked, I see how the young and old come together, how barriers come down as people ease their guard, how the ritual activities of a family festival take over a rhythm of their own and individual moods, opinions and priorities take a backseat. It is this transformation that grips me each time I come to Goa for Chavath. I revel in the slowing down of the pace of life, in the inversion of priorities away from the self and into the realm of family, community, ritual and perhaps even faith.
My aunts sat together, peeling and cutting vegetables and also sharing memories and planning the menu for the next two days. Ajjee sort of oversaw what they were doing, out of sheer force of habit because this is what she has been doing for the last forty odd years! We cousins swapped stories, clicked pictures and ‘Whatsapped’ them to each other and to other cousins far away.
As evening came, we gathered to sing together. The aarti, to me, is the crescendo towards which the events move. The chaal, best described as the rhythmic tune, in which we sing the aartiyo in Goa are distinct from those in Maharashtra. More musical and complex rather than merely chanted, participating in the aarti is as much about skill as gusto. We all enjoy this bit immensely, as you can see in this video. The kids particularly charm me with their enthusiasm!
The kids utilize the evening to do what they enjoy the most- Fog, or firecrackers! See the joy on their faces!
History is a magnanimous teacher. You can sit in your armchair and read about times gone by, people long dead and wonder how their lives were similar or different from ours. And it is fascinating that there is always a situation or a person you identify with.
I just finished reading ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel. Set in the early 16th century, it tells the story of Thomas Cromwell, who traversed the unthinkable trajectory in a single lifetime starting as a blacksmith’s son and becoming Henry VIIIs closest aide. At a time when England challenged the ubiquitous power of the Catholic Church, Cromwell is a man of commerce, almost a disbeliever. A cynic and a liberal. A man who educates his daughters and involves them in his business, a man who is unafraid of negotiations, who makes discipline and duty his ultimate religion.
What fascinated me about the book was the conflict between belief and religion. King Henry challenged and sought to bring down the confluence of money and power that vested in the officials of the Church during his time, primarily because the Catholic Church did not readily give in to his idea of divorcing Katherine to marry Anne Boleyn. Cromwell crafted around the king’s whim a web of laws and statutes that made him the head of the kingdom and the Church in England. And while he did this, powerful people warned of a downfall of morality, an end of truth, none of which happened because it was already an anarchic situation in what we know as Europe today- Turks attacking at one end, a dead Pope’s body being paraded around Rome and Munich being ruled by an autocratic tailor some among many crazy stories we know of now.
What is telling is how Cromwell manipulates the relationship between the citizen and the forces in power. On one side, he believes that citizens must have basic amenities and security of life, on the other he must work with the vagaries of the King’s mind. When push comes to shove, Cromwell sends his law all over the land and asks citizens to swear upon the Bible to accept their King as head of the Church, thus justifying all Henry’s actions. Cromwell knows what he does is wrong, asking innocents to swear upon an issue they barely understand, but he has no choice if he (and England) must survive!
These are the difficult compromises those in power and those close to them must make. Many of their decisions, when viewed in isolation, seem hard, unjustified and unethical. Yet, if we see the web of inter-related matters these men (and women, going by the formidable forces Katherine and Anne were!) must consider, one wonders how decisions get taken at all! In the end, strategic decisions are taken to keep the balance so that the machinery of State keeps running and the people, those poor citizens who know not what is at stake, can continue to lead their contented or wretched lives….
So what has changed, through history? At this point I look at the political situation in India, Egypt, Turkey…and many other places and I see that the citizen is still marginalized from the loci of power. I also see that citizens are given to rather myopic visions, overrun by their immediate concerns and that democratic gathering of opinion is not always possible because information, understanding as well as the well to be informed and understand is not equal among citizens. If we believe democracy to be the best solution for the modern State, we need to develop consensus building skills and powers of negotiation of a very refined and evolved nature. In parallel, citizens must have the means to be aware and involved in decisions that impact their lives. Most of all, we need systems that can wait till these processes of negotiation are complete and this is where I think democracy fails, repeatedly. As KC Sivaramakrishnan, eminent economist and Chairman of Delhi-based think tank said in the context of a recent workshop to support incrementally built neighborhoods in the informal parts of the city, “Every so often, there is an urge and impatience to do something world class and grand” that impinges on this patience. In an instant, we abandon the slower democratic processes to make sweeping changes without worrying about who they benefit. Later, when sense returns, it seems inappropriate to feel remorse, so we justify and we use sellotape to patch the fissures and so on, till things fall apart and a new age is ushered in…
I am here in Goa for Tehelka’s Thinkfest. While this media blitzkrieg is being inaugurated at the posh Hyatt at Bambolim, I am sitting at a local temple near where my uncle lives, hearing some beautiful music!
Goa never fails to surprise.
Tonight, I have the opportunity to experience a temple festival of the Shri Pimpleshwar Dutta Mandir in Talegaon, a municipality close to Panjim, Goa’s capital city. Dattatreya is the Trimurti, the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, much worshipped in these parts. The festival features three local singers, artists of some calibre and plenty of confidence. Akshay, a young vocalist blessed with a mellifluous voice impresses me with his confidence and complete mastery of sur. Tanvi Valavalkar, also young, excelled at devotional music and her classical training comes through in her strong renditions. An older lady, whose name I did not catch, leads the group and has been singing in temple festivals for some forty five years! They carry on the vocal tradition of this region that has produced famous musicians and singers including the famous Mangeshkars.
The master of ceremonies is a colorful personality who fills the interludes with devotional stories, and quotes from a variety of ports and saints in a truly dramatic and traditional style of oration. A crash refresher course in Marathi for sure!
Temple festivals have been a long standing tradition in these parts. It is always heartening to see the strong sense of community in Goa. Today, I see the young and old, men and women, entire families with kids, the rich and the poor, even the resident dog gathered here. Most are truly enjoying the music, some are getting exposure to it. The music is semi classical and offers an opportunity for upcoming artists to showcase their skills to a relatively non judgemental audience.
This is a society bound by convention, faith and common interests. Shared beliefs and ideologies. Shared spaces. Shared rituals. Shared enjoyment. A society in which the whole is a bit more than the sum of its parts.
The results of the Fortis Healthcare Survey on teens have been making news since they came out. Adolescence, as all of us who have passed through it, is a phase of extreme highs and lows. For parents, happy teens are a source of not just joy, but profound relief. If you’re lucky, they might even have some focus in their lives!
Hold on, though, all you adults and think, are we really out of the teens yet? I strongly suspect many of us hold on tenaciously to patterns of thought and behavior that we acquired in our teens. Reflect on the phrases that the survey dwells on- low self-esteem, poor social problem solving, perfection and hopelessness were ones that struck me particularly. Many others, like a tendency for depression or other psychological conditions or external circumstances like parents being separated or death in the family or even low socio-economic status would need to be addressed on a case by case basis.
But these four issues seem like they should be tackled through education and the home environment in the formative pre-teen years. They are also issues that we must continue to work on as adults throughout our lives. As such, each of needs to develop a unique strategy to tackle these ugly demons, that tend to rear their heads occasionally, even though we might be happy and balanced individuals most of the time. When they do appear, these demons can seriously derail our lives, affecting work (low self-esteem takes a severe toll on everything, but especially at work) and relationships (inability to solve social problems). A pursuit of perfection (which means unrealistic expectations from ourselves) and a sense of hopelessness (usually a lack of faith in something that will pull us through the current low period) together puts us under extreme pressure. I am experiencing all of these four conditions at this time. It’s not like life is coming to an end, but yes I am grappling with conflicting career and personal commitments, forging a new identity at a mid-career sort of stage, resolving multiple images that I have of myself and managing expectations.
I am working at that strategy to understand myself better and believe in my own ability to pull through. I think if I have something in place, I might be able to do the ‘growing up’ that has been a long time coming!