Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Devout Assault

Trying to work in the privacy and personal space of my own home-office is an impossibility today. Through tightly shut windows and almost-hermetically-sealed doors I am assaulted by wave after wave of loud, raucous, ear-drum-blasting waves of sound. It has been going on all night, and with most of the day gone as well, it shows no signs of abating. Four different sets of loudspeakers are playing four different – but equally loud and offensive – sets of something they think is music. The resulting ripples and cross currents and clashes are almost more than I can bear!

It happens to be one of the millions of pujas, or days of worship, of the Indian calendar. Given an estimated 33 million gods and goddesses, it is almost a miracle that it doesn’t happen twice a day, everyday. In addition to the major deities and their holy days that most of the country celebrates, there are the many smaller local or class/caste specific deities who come in for their fair share of adulation every year. Depending on where you live, this sort of public puja celebrations can be an almost daily occurrence.

And what does a public puja celebration mean? It is a bunch of people deciding to infringe on my rights to peace, the right to not be treated to inhuman levels of noise, the right to unblocked roads, the right to not have to deal with drunken louts dancing obscenely in the streets, all in the name of religion. And, because it IS in the name of religion, no one dare protest, the cops wont act, and the people having to bear the brunt have no choice but to go on bearing it.

In my lane, and within roughly three minutes of walk from my apartment building, there are some six of these shindigs going on full blast. This is a celebration after all, and in India what that means is loud, loud film music – often of the more raunchy sort – played to all willing and unwilling listeners via loudspeakers. There’s a little bit of actual worshipping going on, sure, but that’s hardly the most important thing. A lot of money has been collected, via door to door voluntary (read give or else…) donation collections, sponsorships, and more, and since a large part of it has been judiciously saved by the organizers, it is their right to spend it on what they want (read huge boom boxes and lots of booze).

Why they should assault their deities, and everyone within a 3 mile radius, with way higher than acceptable decibel levels of the trashiest of trashy music is beyond me. And if you have to have such inappropriate music… for whatever reasons… leave the rest of us out of it! Why must worship involve getting mindlessly drunk and dancing in the streets? Why must it involve misbehaving with women, children, the elderly? Is this what religion, devotion, spirituality is supposed to be? And even if it is… for you… leave my eardrum, my body, and my kid out of it!

Of course it is immature and unrealistic to expect them to think of others, that’s not how this nation works. We rather like rubbing our religions/devotions/beliefs/opinions in other people’s faces whether they want it or not. We like showing every reluctant neighbor and disturbed muhalla person how much we revere our gods, never mind the ill, the dying, the pregnant, or simple the lover of peace and quiet. And, what is more, with our cultural ethos and our strange brand of secularism, we have full rights to assault everyone within hearing range for 72 straight hours with ear piercing renderings of ancient hymns, mantras, or simply the worst songs from 10 yrs ago. And – and this is the best part for them, the worst for everyone else – no one else has the right to object. If you do, you are infringing on their rights to practice their religion! The cops are not likely to be very forthcoming controlling the noise either (half of them being part of the CELEBRATIONS).

This is a free country after all, and a secular one, and apparently everyone and their uncle has the right to bring their religion into the streets and parade it in your face, LOUDLY, all the time! This I do not get. To me, secularism would mean having the right to believe or not believe, worship or not worship, celebrate or not celebrate, within the confines of one’s own home, or place of worship. How can blocking traffic, encroaching on a public road to turn it into a temporary kitchen for the jagrata, keeping everyone up all night because I am up (saving their souls, making sure of their entry into heaven with so many bhajans), assaulting them with Sheila Ki Jawani, wolf whistling at them when they pass, surrounding them in a drunken wolf-pack and molesting them, and in general acting like a total SOB be a religious thing? How can it be celebration? How can it even be secular or democratic?

Take it home damn-it! And keep it there! 

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