TThe season of noise is here with Ganesh Chaturthi, supposedly the birthday of the roly poly elephant-headed God. You see temporary establishments often tastefully decorated and with colourful lights at night. Music, of course, is essential part of festivities. The loudspeakers belt out devotional music and sometimes even film music.
We Indians are noisy people. As it is, we are a loud people and when it comes to celebrations we seem to feel that the louder the celebrations are the better they would be – and perhaps more enjoyable. While noise is an integral part of any Indian celebration, the noisy protagonists are not satisfied with normal, decent, enjoyable or bearable noise. They have to have high decibel levels as the whole thing is aimed at others; i.e. they would like to let others know that they were having a celebratory get-together and a great time.
Take Diwali for instance. It is not only a festival of lights, it is also a festival of merry-making and family get-togethers. Fireworks are made use of depending on the depth of one’s pocket. While sparklers are passé, what have caught the imagination of the current generation are the so-called bombs. They make ear-splitting sound and are surely lethal enough to shock the elderly and the sick. But who is bothered? If I have money I would buy them at whatever might be their cost and burst them not in the evening but at dead of the night to shake up the whole neighbourhood. That, in fact, is the idea: let the neighbourhood know who has the most gravy. Louder it is, the better it would be! The Supreme Court could go to hell along with its orders on permissible decibel levels. Such people neither know about decibels nor do they care about its effects on others.
Around noon today I was sitting on my desk when I heard a distant din. To me it sounded like a whole gathering of people was shouting and screaming. As if that was not enough somebody started playing music on a PA system. It added to the noise level. To add to that melee of noises at least two mosques commenced their aazhaan. Yes, legitimate but noisy nonetheless. And then came the clincher - two hooters, one after another. I do not know whether they were of ambulances or police or of some neta. Whoever that might have been it was a cacophony of sound that was inflicted on others. I wouldn’t know how those who were out on the street up close to them felt. I, sitting at an appreciable distance from the clutter of the street, felt virtually mad. I realized that noise could really make you insane or even make you kill yourself.
In our complex of 13 flats Lord Ganesh is being worshipped these days. The festivities on the occasion of his birth anniversary last around ten days. This also is not true of all communities; some have only a very reasonable daylong festival. But our people in the complex believe in stretching it to ten days – the longer it is, the more the God will be pleased. If the God is amply pleased He will shower more wealth and that is precisely what it is all about; more money. They are a trading community and worship the God with a vengeance – mantras are recited on a PA system, an electronic equipment blares out devotional music and there is occasionally a band that beats the drums so hard and so loudly that the high decibel noise could rupture one’s eardrums.
Noise is ever-present in our lives; that more people have not lost their heads because of it is a matter of surprise. One can, however, be sure that the rising noise level in the public spaces is going to have a deleterious effect on the health of a substantial section of the population. Last evening as we drove down from my late brother’s place we saw a very colourfully lit Ganesh “pandal” at every hundred metres and, of course loud, raucous music. We came down the arterial road and the music hardly ever ceased to keep us company. There was no respite at home either. Families from the flats collected down below for collective worship and partake of the “Prasad” which, in fact, is a full-fledged dinner. Ganesh is also fed the same dinner but, as He has the pride of place, he ‘dines’ before everybody else.
It was not like this around seventy or seventy five years ago. Living as we did in Gwalior, the domain of Scindias, a Maratha prince Ganesh Chaturthi was basically a Maharashtrian festival. The locals never celebrated it. It was a very private affair. Families would buy Ganesh idols and worship Him after installation at home. At the end of the day or the next day the idol would be immersed in a water body, if available. There was no pomp or show of wealth, hardly any loudspeakers.
Even the Durga Puja of Bengalis used to be held in a temple with contributions from the small Bengali community. In Gwalior for many years Durga Puja used to be held only at one place – the Sanatan Dharm Mandir and Bengalis from Morar, JC Mills or from old Gwalior would hire tongas and come driven by their devotion to the Goddess, for meeting members of the community and what was perhaps an unexpressed reason, that of identifying themselves with their culture.
There were no “pandals” for either Lord Ganesh or Goddess Durga on streets every few hundred feet like these days. It seems people now have more money to burn and perhaps they have greater need to propitiate the gods on account of misdeeds committed in their life. It certainly is not heightened religiosity; to my mind, it is basically self interest.