My concept of the Goddess does not apply to politicians, and has nothing to do with the fetish for militarisation and TV war-rooms
I have celebrated Durga Puja in Chennai,âMumbai, Delhi and Guwahati. My concept of womanhood is more respectful than that of the Hindutva crowd – be it in their devotion to “how one should behave,” or in their devotion to Donald Trump
Today is the Navami of Durga Puja, and I always like to tell people how, during the four Pujas that I observed in Chennai, I used to visit the Bengalis’ pandal in Besant Nagar, near the beach in South Madras; the first time time I went I burst out laughing because the Goddess looked like an LTTE suicide bomber. (“Shhh,” my wife scolded me.) In a burst of sub-nationalist uber-patriotism I dragged her and our three kids to the Bihar association’s pandal in Gopalapuram. It was sad and deserted, but the stragglers came to life when they discovered that an Editor-in-Chief was one of their own, and they were so insistent on the evening programmes that my wife and I fled, never to return.
In deference to my wife’s sub-nationalism, we found an Assamese association in Chennai, but their pandal was in Anna Nagar which we were too lazy to drive to. I don’t remember visiting Puja pandals when I was a boy in Bihar, but it would have been a certainty because there were relatives whose sole aim in life was to loiter at a pandal all day because the sultriest of the Bengali coquettes would show up, though they presumably saved their charms for a more cultured stock of loiterers. In America, I had no consciousness of Puja because Americans have holidays based on false and secular premises like Columbus Day – which coincidentally is today. Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 in what is now the West Indies, and he is credited with not just bringing venereal disease to the New World but also discovering America. My younger daughter in California, says that many of her fellow students have angrily raised a perennial demand, that today be renamed as Native American Day (after the indigenous population mistakenly called “Indians”), and not because a bunch of Italians sent by a Spanish Queen gave them syphilis and gonorrhoea, but because they lived off the land for centuries before it was “discovered”.
But even if Americans are too ashamed to acknowledge their violence against the natives Columbus is still not the discoverer of America – it was the Vikings over a thousand years ago. You can watch one dramatisation of this in Danish autuer Nicolas Winding Refn’s film ‘Valhalla Rising’ in which Vikings, who want to join the crusades in 1000 AD, end up getting lost; travelling via Iceland and Greenland, they discover North America instead. (The film is notable for Mads Mikkelsen tearing open a man’s stomach with his bare fingers.) Also, in March 2015, the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard retraced the arrival of the Vikings in North America and their first settlement in Newfoundland, Canada; though as with Knausgaard, his writing dwells on retracing his own steps in retracing the steps of his forebears.
Living in America, the land of milk and honey, I lost track of my cultural roots and their link to the philosophical underpinnings of my own forebears’ traditions. This is perhaps why so many NRIs froth at the mouth when you question the government’s Kashmir policy or even its cross-LoC surgical strike policy (they bizarrely accuse you of insulting the army); it is their substitute for cultural self-assuredness. The army allows you to freely write your subversive columns by protecting your borders, they say, sitting in San Jose, etc. Perhaps. But that has nothing to do with the BJP’s self-serving policies. Someone really should organise a Durga Puja for the pseudo-Hindus living the American dream outside our well-defended borders.
Me, I’ve celebrated Durga Puja in Mumbai (though, not like Rani Mukherji who is Mumbai’s most famously fervent devotee of the Goddess as well as of pandal-hopping in the Western suburbs); I’ve trudged long distances through the South Delhi throngs to the Chittaranjan Park pandals which are among the gaudiest in the nation; I’ve watched my son and his band play to Gurgaon crowds that were more interested in Kolkata chicken roll; and I’ve pandal-hopped in Guwhati even though for four days the city metamorphoses into traffic hell.
My conception of the Goddess is not something that applies to any politician, no matter what AB Vajpayee said after 1971. My concept of Shakti has nothing to do with the currently fashionable fetish for militarisation and TV war-rooms. My Hinduism is more cognizant of “dharma” than our current rulers are (as Vajpayee pointed out after the 2002 riots). My concept of womanhood is more respectful than that of the Hindutva crowd – be it in their devotion to “how one should behave” or in their devotion to Donald Trump. So when I bow my head to the Goddess, I wonder how India looks from her eyes: a land run by a bunch of monkeys who want to burn the place down with tales of faux heroism.
Senior journalist Aditya Sinha is a contributor to the recently published anthology House Spirit: Drinking in India. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org