It was a spur, I won’t say of the moment , whim definitely, spur of the whim (if there is one such idiom in English language) decision to attend the Raavan Dahan Samaroh on Mahadashami. Recently, my boy had complained, “Ma’am! You keep me so busy I do not get any time to enjoy life” A serious allegation, indeed! I felt like an ogre and wanted to make amends. “This time we’ll go see Raavan kaisey Jalaate hai. It’s been years I have watched one.” His enthusiasm was infectious. I gave in.
The next thing was to find out where exactly it was happening near about. As it was fated, just spotted the three effigies waiting to be inflamed right adjacent to the main market during the day. There were many others but as I said it was kind of preordained that we visit this particular spot.
Come evening, we set out to watch live how Goodness won over Evil, if not forever, then at least for a day!
The crowd was gathering slowly. It was an open ground next to a busy road where as I said the trio was waiting patiently for the Godly Prince to arrive and burn them down. My boy yelled, “Look! All three appear the same.” They did with bulging eyes, blood-red lips parted in a rakshasa-esque grin and that pair of hideous moustache, all combined together ramified the satanic at its best. I always wondered why did they look so grotesque. For one, Ravana’s nine extra heads seemed abnormally smaller in size appended to his normal one. With disproportionately sized thorax, abdomen and legs ( or the absence of them) and arms too, they looked stunted, perhaps in keeping with the average height of the Indian metrosexual male(?) Well! Ravana and Company were Sri Lankans, weren’t they?
The expected rowdiness had always kept me away from such community-celebrations. “Let’s watch it seated inside our car.” My suggestion was turned down even before it could be considered by the complete lack of proper parking place let alone the right angle for viewing.
“Let’s watch it from the foot path opposite or the divider.” But the boy had already climbed up the short boundary wall taking support of the iron fence. “Plenty of space inside,” He jumped down. Reluctantly, I made way to the open entrance. The area was cordoned off by men and women in khakii. They looked as disenchanted as the Evil King waiting for his imminent end.
A little further in and I put my foot down, “No, no more, we’ll stand here.” The boy stood behind me with his arms outstretched on either side… I felt like one of those celebrities with personal security guards to boot. In the extreme opposite corner of the maidan a stall was erected from where all the announcements were being made from time to time. A raucous voice kept on dropping names of local netas, influential big wigs and their kith and kin who had so kindly supported and made possible this bhavya aayojan for us, the insignificant aam junta. He kept on repeating himself, irritatingly so, for the next two hours till the import of the magnanimous contributions of our political leaders were fully ingrained in our dim witted bhejas. In between these momentous announcements, Hari Om Sharan sang to his heart’s content, how the monkey king Hanuman’s devotion to Lord Rama was of exemplary heights!!
Darkness thickened so did the crowd. There were occasional pushes, pulls and jostles as people thronged in kicking dust. The itching in my throat was increasing. I had just survived a bad tonsil infection. The boy pointed excitedly to the other extreme of the ground. Big cardboard boxes of crackers, sealed and unsealed, sat in rows. A few volunteers were entrusted to light these up at intervals to keep the crowd entertained. And they did…as the sky lit up in gold and silver and a burst of other colours in shimmering umbrellas and other intricate patterns…some exploded in mushroom clouds to be followed by sprinkles of stardusts.
“Oh! They have spent lakhs and lakhs on these!” The boy looked suitably impressed.
The raspy voice on the mike kept on a running commentary of how the jhaakis were on their way from Multan Nagar, soon to arrive at any moment! But the wait seemed interminably long. I covered my face with the dupatta. The itching in the throat had graduated to sneezing at regular intervals now.
Suddenly, there was a rush and the voice on the mike earnestly requested to give way to the horsemen, part of the ‘holy’ parade, who had trotted in and now taking rounds of the ground. I wondered whether they were expert enough to control the beasts when the effigies went up in flames!! But there were more surprises in store for me. Followed suit the horsemen, were two more figures on horse back whom the announcer excitedly welcomed , “Behold! Rana Pratap ji and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharajji have just arrived!” Will history be rewritten now? I gawked. Rana Pratap was an unassuming persona but Shivaji looked like a stocky fellow more like Premnath, the yesteryear Bollywood villain of the 60s and the 70s. Anyhow…
The ground was uneven and it was difficult to keep balance. In fact, too exacting for my arthritic knees. All of a sudden an urchin sprang up from nowhere and collided with the boy to be grabbed by his lapels in an iron clasp, “Paad dunga.” Roared the boy holding me with his free hand. I shouted, “Take care of your mobile!” Where is your purse?” He queried in return. I showed him. It was in my hand. He let the scrawny figure go but by that time the stranger had taken the scuffle to his heart. He threatened the boy of dire consequences disappearing in the crowd to reappear again, with one of the horsemen now on foot. The lady by my side, tried in vain to put some sense into the boy’s head, “Jaane bhii do Bhaiyya! Wo paagal hai!” “Did he try to snatch your purse?” He asked me shaking with anger. “No! No!” I said. There was a hurried exchange with the newcomer who smiled at the end and the matter was amicably resolved. Phew!!
The itch! The sneeze! Now the sweat! “Let’s go.” I told the boy. “Aap kyun darte ho ? Main hoon na.” Reassured the boy, thumping his chest. I cursed the moment I had agreed to come. But by this time the fireworks were becoming more and more stunning. Soon, there was an uproar. The jhaakiis had arrived!! A band was being played somewhere. I craned my neck expecting to catch a glimpse of the oft-projected dhoti clad figure of the Lord dressed as an ordinary recluse (remember, vanvaasi?). Instead, I saw figures in black silk with stone studded crowns brandishing shining blades as thick as khadgas. A girl with a heavily painted face in zardozi. Sita Maiyya ? My boy searched frantically for Ram Bhakt Hanuman. He was a Balaji devout. There was a saffron clad guy wearing a four headed gear. Brahma of Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwar trinity? What was he doing here?
The ground had turned into a battlefield now as the much touted Ram-Ravana Yuddh was being enacted. It was overcrowded and nobody seemed to be listening to the frantic calls of the compere for making space. Amidst this pandemonium suddenly Kumbh Karn rose in flames followed by Meghnaad. Ravana was to go last. There were jubilant cries of “Shree Ram Chandra Ji kii jai!” And then more smoke, heat and dust..
The spectators in front reversed hastily to avoid being covered by soot. The man next to the boy hauled one of them in rage,”Who had told you to go so close?” A fight ensued. The boy tried his level best to ward off, with one flailing arm, the warring men from falling on me, covering me with the other. A few more minutes and we were out away from the skirmish.
It was 08.00 pm by my watch.
Everyone had taken to the roads by now, thousands of men, women, children…I told him to be patient on the wheel as the car lurched backwards. Once inside, I sighed heavily and reclined back.
“Ma’am!” He declared,”Ravana is dead but he has left behind a smog of pollutants for us.” He coughed. Good sense had prevailed at last! I thought.
“So? Will you come again to see Ravana’s death?”
“No.” I shook my head vehemently.
“My knees are swollen and I have an excruciating back pain.” I informed
“Never mind! Agley saal phir aayenge.” It was a resolve not a request.
God save me!!
Anyway, folks wish you all a very Happy Dusshehra!!