Saturday, October 24, 2015

My Durga Puja, 2015

I am agnostic to Durga Puja. I am not exactly opposed to it, but I believe in living and letting live. As long as Durga Puja (the first phrase I came across in my life that was abbreviated to DP, courtesy: Presidency College days) lets me live on my own, I do not have an issue with others celebrating. I can tolerate the stench of chilli sauce and stale noodles in the air for four days. It is infinitely more tolerable than the Diwali noise-pollution and people forcing you to play Holi.

But this is not about me. Neither is it about Durga Puja. It is about Dussehra, the festival where Raavan is felled: Raavan, of great valour, of ten heads (is the torso under the fifth head or the sixth?), of near-unmatched sexual prowess, of unflinching dedication to Shiva, of great musical talent — a man who simply chose to kidnap the wrong woman to avenge his wounded nymphomaniac of a sister.

But this is not about Raavan. This is about Dussehra, a festival not as big as Diwali or Holi in Mumbai, but popular nevertheless. Women (and even men) of Mumbai celebrate Navratri in colour-coded attire, one for every day.

Note: This is a remarkable phenomenon, the Navratri colour codes. This year, for example, the colours were red, navy blue, yellow, green, grey, orange, white, pink, sky blue, and purple in that order for the ten days from Pratipad to Dasami. This time there were two Pratipads and a single day for Navami and Dasami, but there were ten days nevertheless. You get the basic idea. If you do not, check this photograph from DNA.


This was Dussehra. Navi Mumbai had shut down completely (the term is subjective: a completely shut Navi Mumbai afternoon is comparable to a fully functional Kolkata afternoon). I made my way through the Vashi Station subway and found the underground passage uncharacteristically empty.

Holidays are supposed to be like that, unless you are in a media organisation.

More so if you are into sport, which knows no time.

More so if India plays South Africa at home, trailing the series 1-2 with two matches to play.

Yeah, that sums it up all right.

But no, I am digressing. I left for work an hour before the match started. I passed the railway station, walking in the sultry yet tolerable October sun of Navi Mumbai.

I almost passed the mall that has the words INOX sprawled over the top floor in humongous dark blue font.

And then I saw them. Or rather, they saw me.

A boy and a girl, in her high teens; or maybe in their low twenties.

They were not from well-to-do families. It was evident.

They were clearly out on a date on a Dussehra afternoon.

Maybe she was from a conservative family. Maybe it had taken him a lot of coaxing to sneak her out on Dussehra. Maybe she had lied that she was going out with female friends.

You know when it happens. You can tell it from their faces.

He, the emperor of the world, now that he has her by his side.

She, the empress of the world, having granted him a wish after being wooed for so long.

They, the first family of the world, for there was joy in their eyes. Their fingers were not interlinked, but the glint in the eyes was unmistakable.

I was in a hurry. So were they.

They asked me where CineMAX was. I was about to ask them to check their smartphones, but realised they did not have any.

Affordability had to do with it, but I loved to believe there was more: they were too immersed in themselves to not care about communication with the world.

I gave them vague directions using my phone. She looked back, confusion in her eyes, before looking at him. He was confused as well, but there was a smile of assurance in his eyes.

I showed him the direction on my phone. This time he understood, smiled, thanked me, and looked around for transport.

The awe in her eyes for him is a spectacle that would be with me for an eternity.

No, he could not afford to buy INOX tickets on a holiday. I knew that much. CineMAX was the inexpensive alternative.

It was the closest I came to offering a couple INOX tickets. Why not do something good for a change?

But then, it seemed so futile — for I could hardly add to his seemingly inexhaustible riches.

Kings, unlike us, do not ask for alms.

And for those few moments, that Navi Mumbai Dussehra became a Kolkata February, transcending boundaries of space and time.


And I lived my Durga Puja.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Yudhisthir: a moment of insensitive sadism


This is a very serious story from Mahabharat.

Remember Yudhishthir, the good dude? The dude only lied once in his life, while introducing himself as Kanka to King Virat of Matysa, and got away with it? Instead, he got reprimanded for speaking the truth, albeit with voice modulations.

Indeed, life was unfair to him. And hence, he decided to take it out on Bheeshma, the most eligible bachelor in the country, lying there, acupunctured, waiting for summer to arrive — for Delhi summer feels like death anyway.

He chose death by heat. No, not that was what I meant, despite the fact that Bheeshma was celibate. At least, on paper. Or papyrus. Or palm leaves. Whatever.

But we are digressing.

This is a story from one of the forgotten sections of the greatest story ever told. The intricacies and nuances of Shanti-parva and Anushasan-parva are usually lost to time. They involve Yudi and his mates visiting Bheeshma on his deathbed and asking him random questions.

Here is a random sample:

1. How do you get the sin-equivalent of murdering a Brahmin?
[Giving your plans away, Yudi?]

2. Please tell me all names of Shiva.
[Dude, the guy is lying on a bed of arrows. Google it, for heaven’s sake.]

3. Please tell me how kings should refrain from enjoyment.
[I have always wondered about the purpose of this question.]

4. If a king is lazy, weak, and impoverished; and all his strategies have been leaked to the opposition, what does he do?
[I thought the answer to this was obvious: flee.]

5. Do you agree that meat is the tastiest food?
[And the reason for asking this utterly subjective question being…?]

6. How many kinds of sons are there?
[Now that is sadism for you.]

I agree that Yudi was a sucker for GK, but this was carrying things a bit too far. But then, there are avid quizzers in this world, and you cannot blame a person for assuming his ailing and dying great-grand-something was Wikipedia.

There was, however, one question that stood out from the rest, but for that you need a recap of the situation.

***

Bheeshma, as we know, was a celibate. The vow he took earned him three things:
1. The ability to choose the place and time of his death.
2. Invincibility in war.
3. The name Bheeshma for lifetime (top marks for relevance).

Bheeshma, as we know, ripped the Pandavs apart for the first nine days, leading to Krishna break his vow and wield his chakra.

On the ninth night, Yudi had sneaked into the Kaurav camp to ask Bheeshma how the old man could be defeated. Bheeshma told him, and was felled on the tenth day. He spent the rest of his life on a bed of arrows. It must have felt good.

So, in a nutshell, Bheeshma
1. Was a celibate.
2. Was felled in The War because he told Yudi how to go about it.
3. Was in his deathbed.

***

Still there? Good. Let me now narrate Yudi’s question:

Who gets more pleasure during sex — man or woman?

You have read it right. Yudi asked his celibate great-grand-something that question when the latter was in his deathbed of arrows.

That. Fornicating (literally). Question.

***

But Bheeshma, as we know, was cool. He explained the entire thing with a story — the story of King Bhangaswan.

Bhangaswan never had a son. He worshipped and pleased Agni (the God, not the missile) and got a hundred sons. It is not clear whether he obtained them simultaneously, but he did.

He also managed to infuriate Indra (the king of Gods, not the Chiranjeevi movie) as a result, as he was not worshipped. It is possible that Indra kept a tab of all Gods being worshipped everywhere in the world. Maybe he maintained a database that worked real-time. Whatever be his methods, the dude had got it right.

On one of his hunting trips, an extremely thirsty Bhangaswan came to a lake in a forest. He made his horse drink the water (or, rather, he took his horse to the water; the horse did the rest, as per norm). Then, when Bhangaswan drank the water himself, he transformed into a woman.

So, an embarrassed (and extremely confused, for he had no clue that he had infuriated Indra) Bhangaswan returned to his kingdom, told his wives and sons — all hundred of them — that he was relinquishing the kingdom for good.

The sons, all hundred of them, started ruling (it is not very clear how they achieved this without conflicts, but they were rather successful at it).

Bhangaswan, meanwhile, retired to a forest, married a saint, and started mothering sons — another hundred of them. The man was probably no saint, after all.

Wait for a moment to get the hang of this: the, er, creature fathered a hundred and mothered a hundred sons (what was with him/her and round figures, no innuendo intended?).

[Note that all these were sons. The same had happened with Dhritarashtra. His first hundred children were all sons. Bhangaswan stopped at a hundred. This cannot be a coincidence.]

As if this was not enough, Bhangaswan led his, er, mothered sons to his fathered sons, thus leading to an extremely confused lot of two hundred boys or men or whatever they were at that stage.

[Valid question: How old was Bhangaswan at this time?]

Bhangaswan asked them to stay together and rule the kingdom. This time two hundred of them lived and ruled in peace. I have no clue how that was possible, but they did.

Remember Indra? He was obviously not happy at these developments (once again, he kept a tab on Bhangaswan all along, through his/her motherhood). Indra had managed to change his gender (Bhangaswan’s, not Indra’s), but in the process had made Bhangaswan the parent of two hundred sons.

So Indra went to the Bhangaswan’s fathered sons and explained that they were Bhangaswan’s sons, while the other hundred were merely Bhangaswan’s sons, and had no right to rule. I hope I made sense.

So Bhangaswan’s sons fought and killed Bhangaswan’s sons. What I meant by that was all two hundred were killed. I kid you not.

[Note: Indra was the father of Arjun, who was standing there, listening to all this.]

Realising his fatal (literally) error, Bhangaswan started worshipping Indra. This time Indra was pleased (Agni, to my knowledge, remained neutral) and appeared, offering a boon: exactly one set of a hundred of his/her sons would be brought alive; Bhangaswan would even be given a choice of selecting the set (was this really a boon?)!

Bhangaswan chose the set he/she had as mother. There was no love like maternal love, after all.

Then followed the mother (if you mind the pun) of all questions: a pleased (why?) Indra asked Bhangaswan whether she would want to continue as a woman or change his gender.

She wanted to stay put. Indra asked for a reason. What Bhangaswan replied is seldom quoted, but is one of the more profound lines in the history of mankind or womankind or whatever-kind you prefer:

“Women get more pleasure during sex than men.”

Now you know. I do not know what, but you definitely know.


[Note: Sahadeb knew all this. He was probably laughing to himself as the conversation unfolded.]

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