Every year, a 9-day Festival of the Arts, ‘The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival’is held in Mumbai. Initiated in 1999, it is a celebration of the culture and various Art forms of India, with an aim to involving the community and so helping in their preservation. The historic ‘Kala Ghoda‘ district is the hub of Mumbai’s Art World…lined with Art Galleries, Museums, Libraries, located in heritage buildings dating back to the days of the Raj.
The Festival is a colorful spectacle of Art installations, street acts, musical concerts, movie screenings, and a myriad of workshops in various fields. The energy is palpable as families wander through the pedestrian zone, cameras at the ready, taking in the sights, catching the latest street acts, grabbing a bite to eat, jostling to shop at the many interesting stalls that line the walk, and studying the many installations that dot the landscape. I have happy memories of wandering here when we were last in Mumbai – it was much smaller then, less crowded although thoroughly enjoyable. Like everything else in this city – it has ballooned in size and scope and attendance so that it is quite difficult to walk around without stepping on anonymous toes and warding off strange elbows with your own, as we found out when we were there last Sunday! Since Ishaan was with us, I was quite paranoid of holding on to his hand, lest the crowd swallow him up!! There were scouts too – they approached us to ask whether we would be interested in Ishaan being a child model and Hubby, much to my annoyance gave them his number!! Not that he has a say in the matter. My decision is quite final and it’s a resounding NO!
We did however soak in the vibrant atmosphere of the street – it’s impossible not to! I took pictures of the various installations – the theme this year seemed to be skulls made out of refuse – which would explain this gigantic model made out of disemboweled computer parts!
A scooter shaped like a fly reminiscent of a recent Bollywood blockbuster titled ‘Makkhi’, (fly in Hindi);
A giant pair of glasses served as a showcase for the normal-sized ones ensconced within;
A shiny copper bicycle encouraging Mumbai denizens towards an environment-friendly lifestyle;
Totem poles made out of recyclable materials and a green map of India strung with fairy lights that lit up when cyclists pedaled hard creating energy!
The boys ate ice-cream and we all enjoyed a 20 min tightrope performance by a troupe of local acrobats! Ishaan was extremely excited but confused by the boy on stilts and utterly in awe of the boy balancing on the rope all to riveting beat of handheld drums! It was his first time watching a show like this and I’m so glad he was able to experience it, even in the 21st century 🙂 It took me back to my childhood, when there were several such troupes wandering around Bombay, usually families, where the children performed all sorts of dare-devilry and acrobatics! ‘Dombari’ they are called in Marathi and their appearance was always exciting if a little scary!
With the boys in tow, I didn’t get to shop or even browse, but I’m going back with a friend, during school hours tomorrow, to do exactly that! There are always a couple of stalls that are out of the ordinary 🙂
6th June, Ishaan’s first day back to school nearly didn’t happen because of the Goa ‘Bandh’. A ‘Bandh’ (for the uninitiated), is local lingo for a call to close shop, a Shutdown. Businesses, schools, transport and private enterprises that support the issue at hand remain closed voluntarily; those that don’t do so out of fear of violence (stone-throwing and tire-burning incidents are extremely common), usually for a day. The aim is to disrupt normal routine, cause inconvenience to the public (most of whom don’t give a damn about the issue!), and generally create a nuisance, in the hopes of attracting publicity and on the rare occasion surprising positive results from inept Governments.
This one, was organized by a group of people who claim to protect local Goan culture and language. As I understand it, they were opposing the State Government’s decision to grant aid to primary schools where English is the medium of instruction. They feel this will cause an exodus of students from primary schools that use the local language Konkani and Marathi as the medium of instruction (which also receive Government aid), and this in turn will lead to an erosion of what they term ‘Goan Culture’. They claim they have the right to protest, and certainly they do, this is a democracy after all, but I fail to see how shutting down the State will help their cause! In this case, moreover, the Government for once, is being inclusive rather than divisive. It isn’t doing anything other than granting aid to schools that didn’t previously get any, and it’s not withdrawing aid from any local language schools to do this! I would have thought that was a win-win situation all around. And still, they protest! But Hey! What do I know?
Other than cause a headache for all concerned, it’s difficult to see what they achieved, except I suppose, newspaper headlines (although I don’t recall seeing too many of those either!). Once they receive aid, English schools will be no doubt become more attractive and affordable to certain parents, who couldn’t afford them before, and if they choose to send their children there, shouldn’t that be their choice? Isn’t that what democracy is all about? A freedom of choice, including the choice to get educated in any language you want? How is this a bad thing? All this tom-tomming about democracy seems rather rich coming from people who are protesting this basic freedom in the name of Culture-preservation! From those who are looking to foist their own narrow-mindedness on the rest of us more open-minded citizens. Where does it say that Culture is something that must be forcibly foisted on a community? Isn’t society in general an amalgamation of Cultures? Isn’t that what makes for this wonderfully textured fabric we call Life? But again, what do I know?
I’m no historian nor any expert on Goan politics, but I do know that language has always been a contentious issue in the Goan context. We have a history of language agitation and when all else fails, politicians can always rely on the ‘Language’ issue to stir public passions and win votes. I find the whole issue silly, but then that’s me and I’m only Goan by the accident of birth 😛 When Goa became a State in 1987, there was a huge agitation to declare the local language Konkani, the official State language. Until then, all official Government business was conducted exclusively in English (still is). Now people wanted Konkani to be used too as opposed to Marathi (the State language of neighboring Maharashtra). Unfortunately, Konkani is more of a dialect, a spoken language rather than a written one. It is heavily influenced by both Portuguese and Marathi and changes in the way it’s spoken and the words used as you travel the length and breadth of our tiny State. We don’t have our own word for ‘Thank You’! We use ‘Dev Bare Karu’ which means ‘God Bless You’ or ‘Obrigad’ which means ‘Thank You’ in Portuguese! Similarly window can be ‘zanel’ (derived from the Portuguese ‘janela’) or ‘khidki’ (derived from Marathi). What you call it depends on what version you were brought up speaking. For me, therein lies its inherent charm 🙂 Hubby who was raised in South Goa speaks a Konkani that is heavily influenced by Portuguese. My family, speaks a version that is heavily influenced by Marathi because we are from North Goa and also because we’ve lived a large part of our lives in Bombay. Hubby studied in Marathi until 5th Grade (very common at the time), when the medium switched to English. It was terribly hard for him and he had to repeat the grade, because English was so unfamiliar. I, on the other hand, have studied in English all my life. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we both became doctors, we are both multi-lingual and we share the same values and principles in Life. Culture or otherwise, I don’t see that the language we studied in has made that much of a difference in the grand scheme of Life!
Perhaps that’s why I have difficulty understanding why parents nowadays expect schools to teach ‘Culture’, and how Goans are increasingly equating Language with Culture. It seems regressive and is scary. I do not consider myself any less ‘Cultured’ or ‘Goan’ just because I choose or prefer to speak English most of the time! The one has nothing to do with the other! Schools are for education. ‘Culture’ is something you learn and absorb from the environment you live in at home, in society and yes in school too I suppose. I’ve always thought of it though, as an ongoing process – part active learning and part osmosis, and I expect Ishaan’s school not so much to teach him ‘Culture’ as to teach him about ‘Culture’. For our part, we will do our best to raise Ishaan to respect and value life, love, integrity, equality and hard work, both in himself and in others, and honestly, if that isn’t enough, I don’t know what is! What is this ‘Culture’ that these people are so afraid to lose? Most of the time, they use the term to exclusively represent their religious beliefs and rituals, which are necessarily a part of Culture, but not its be all and end all. And again I say, this is something that is taught in family, handed down through generations, evolving along the way. I find it hard to imagine a static Culture. To me that would mean something is terribly wrong. I think any Culture that is not ‘dynamic’ and able to evolve with the times we live in, will find it extremely hard to survive.
But as always, with an issue that’s close to my heart, I digress 😛 No one with half a brain is deceived by these self-proclaimed upholders of ‘Goan Culture’ (their version of it), for a minute! For one, most of their children have either studied or are studying in the very schools they now say are ‘Culture-Killers’. For another, most of us recognize this for what it really is, a vote-getting stunt backed by unscrupulous politicians as elections approach. But politicians posture, organizations lecture and gullible members of the public get swept away by the rhetoric! The local papers have been full of nothing else this last week, presenting the issue from every conceivable angle complete with expert opinions and comments. Is it just me or does this seem like a silly waste of time? A Brouhaha over a complete non-issue!
There are more, much more important issues that one can choose to protest. Issues that mean the difference between Life and death – female infanticide, the state of healthcare, the sorry state of our infrastructure, corruption, unemployment, rampant tourism and resultant environmental abuse…the list is endless. But no! Lets choose instead to agitate over an issue that will only give more people the chance to learn a new language if they wish. That will make learning that language more affordable. That will significantly brighten their job prospects! Oh no! That will never do! Coz if we progress as a society and evolve rationally, where does that leave corrupt politicians and their hired stooges? With s*#$% on their face, is where 😉
So no indeed. Let’s protest! Long Live Goan Culture! Hip Hip Hurrah 😛
* The views expressed in this piece are mine and mine alone. I reserve the right to change them without explanation whenever I choose 😉 If you agree, welcome to the land of the sane 🙂 If you don’t…get well soon 😛
On Wednesday, Ishaan had a school holiday. It was for ‘Mahashivratri’,loosely translated as ‘The Night of the Great Lord Shiva‘. On the day, all over India, people celebrate the festival by fasting, performing ‘Pujas’ and praying for the well-being of loved ones. Like everything in Hinduism, there are several legends about Mahashivratri. Some believe it is the wedding day of Shiva & his wife Parvati; others, that this was the night he danced the ‘Tandava’ – a divine dance symbolizing creation, preservation & destruction; still others that this was the night he manifested in the form of the ‘Lingam’ (the phallic form, in which he is most commonly worshipped to this day). Whatever one chooses to believe or disbelieve, it’s a day of worship, piety and celebration all rolled into one, like most Hindu festivals!
Shiva is one of the super Gods, part of the Holy Hindu Trinity of Gods, Brahma – the Creator, Vishnu – The Protector & Shiva – the Destroyer. They’re the big guns…like the Godfather, the ones that all the thousands of little Gods go running to in times of trouble (and believe me that’s more often than you think!). They grant boons, kill villains and reward devotees much like their juniors, but they just do it better, and bigger! He’s always been my favorite. I like his no-nonsense, down-to-earth attitude and although he’s not the best looker (what with the deadly ‘Eye’ in the center of his blue forehead, the deadly Trident in his hand, the matted locks of hair that hold the mighty river Ganges, the ash-smeared blue-skinned body and the snakes he uses for jewelry!), his charisma & the divine aura that surrounds him, attracts every kind of life-force. And he welcomes them all…the good, the bad and the ugly; offering them all his love, his advice, his protection. What’s not to like?
He’s wise and simple, often granting terrible boons to his devotees that help them become monsters! And when he gets angry…the ‘Eye’ opens and burns whoever has pissed him off to a crisp! Now that’s a power I could do with some days 😉 He once burned the God of Love, Kama (Cupid’s Hindu avatar), to a crisp, in a moment of rage, because the poor dear had shot a love-arrow at him, at the request of the other Gods, when they were trying to get him hitched again after the death of his beloved first wife, Sati. However in a typical God-like display of forgiveness, he later revived Kama at the request of Kama’s wife Rati (Goddess of the Moon), and his own second wife – The Goddess Parvati (she is the Mother Goddess incarnate and also a reincarnation of his first wife Sati! Confused? Don’t be…just go with the flow :P). I identify with this guy…he’s quick to anger, quick to forgive and bears no malice, rather like me 😛
Did I mention he’s big in Goa? Well he is and my family worship him at the Mangeshi Temple. I’m not big on rituals, but I’m surrounded by them and there is no escape. There’s an interesting story that I would like to share that happened a long time ago…when I was newly married. It’s a tradition for newly married couples on Hubby’s side of the family, to worship at the Mangeshi Temple. This involves getting up at the crack of dawn, bathing, dressing in traditional garb (a 9-yard sari for women & the ‘dhotar’ for men), and entering the innermost sanctum of the Temple, where the ‘Lingam’ is located, to worship. Inside there’s a well and at the end of the ritual, the couple draws water from the well to bathe the holy ‘Lingam’! Hubby & I for one reason or another hadn’t gone through with this ritual in the first year of marriage and frankly were completely unaware that it even existed! One day, we found ourselves at his ancestral house and were about to enter to pray to the family deity, when we were stopped in our tracks by a pair of black snakes allegedly cobras but I can’t prove it), that seemed to be involved in their mating dance! They were on the front porch and were in no mood to let us pass. We tried to go around the back (Yes we were silly! Young and silly, wanting to enter a house with snakes dancing on the porch!), but they appeared again at the back door, rather miraculously, and we couldn’t enter. Finally chastised, we headed home and narrated the incident to our in-laws as nothing more than an interesting anecdote. Should have known better (but we were silly & young!). My in-laws took a rather serious view of the whole event and my father-in-law set off immediately for the Mangeshi temple to discuss with the family priest and interpret the significance, of what to them was clearly a divine sign of some sort! The priest duly informed him that we had failed to perform the ritual ‘puja’ at the temple, and this was Shiva’s way of reminding us that we had forgotten! Snakes are Shiva’s pets so to speak! And so, off we went, obediently, into the inner sanctum, duly purified and properly attired to ask forgiveness for our oversight and blessings for a happy marriage. In true God fashion – He forgave & blessed!
There’s another great story that I like, about how he got his blue-skin. The Gods & their cousins the evil ‘Asuras’ (demons) were once involved in a quest for ‘Amrut’ (The nectar of immortality, Ambrosia), and were told that the last jar of the stuff was at the bottom of the ocean bed. They were also told that the only way to get it, was to churn the ocean and drain it, to reveal the hidden treasure. So off they went to the Holy Trinity and on their advice, used a giant snake tied around a mountain as the churner (don’t you just love these stories ;-)), and had a sage drink up the ocean (child’s play to a great sage that!). Still they churned, but instead of the Nectar, poison spurted up which would have killed them. Again, they asked the Holy Trinity for help and Shiva offered to drink the poison so they could get to the Nectar. And so he drank up and as he did the poison turned his neck & skin blue…and so he’s also called ‘Neelkanth’ (neel = blue, kanth = throat), in many parts of India, especially the south. He rides a bull…his faithful mount Nandi (an idol is found in every temple dedicated to Shiva), drinks ‘Somras’ (alcohol to me & you!) and is God to ghouls and humans alike! He is father to my favorite ‘Ganesha’, the Elephant God, and a great dancer! In his dancing form, he is worshipped as ‘Nataraja’, Lord of Dance.
He is Timeless – wisest of sages, granter of wishes, destroyer of ignorance, master of destiny, and keeper of the balance of the universe – in His name is hidden the secret of Nirvana.
He is, to me, the epitome of Cool 🙂
p. s.‘Om Namah Shivay’…this simple chant is used to invoke his name and may be loosely translated to mean ‘Holy Is Thy Name Shiva’.
p. p. s. I’m no Sanskrit nor religious scholar however, so don’t take my word for Gospel 😛 Google Him for more info 😉