A Hundred Gourds 4:1 December 2014

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Raamesh Gowri Raghavan - India


morning rush
the railway beggar's bed
turns office

With a setting crescent moon over the darkened hills, a single, bright star in a purple sky turning violet, a cup of green tea in my hands, a couple of crisp, marie biscuits and a well-written book of history - you might think Sunday was perfect.

But no, there has to be what's called a society function, haldi kumkum* this time, in the lawns, ostensibly to celebrate a religious festival. I can't quite see where the plate containing turmeric and vermillion is. Instead there are plastic chairs in a disordered semi-circle, a sound system, a table with prizes and another where snacks are being prepared.

metro rush hour
I crowd everything out
but the wheels' beat

A mistress of ceremonies, who should be legally restrained from coming within six feet of microphones, women of all ages busy sharing notes on silk sarees and bright jewelry (dare I call them gaudy?), men guffawing over some crude joke but trying not to be too noisy, and children being children - all of them try to get as much antakshari** finished before the inevitable squabble. Bad Bollywood and Indipop songs are sung even more horridly, and then the awaited squabble breaks out in all its entertaining intensity - over which word the previous song ended in, over who deserves the prize, and whose child is most talented.

And then it dies down, for folk are hungry (better to finish off as much as one can lest the organisers corner everything) and the organisers look on in anxiety (how greedy the society people have become, next time we should not have buffet system but limited snacks only).

evening train
the choicest abuses
are my fun

The microphone at last is silent; under a navy blue sky with Orion, the Pleiades and the Dog Star shining on us, my dog and I lie down and gaze at the sky revelling again, in that eternal quietness, that is Nature's night.


*haldi-kumkum: a Hindu ceremony in which women gather to apply turmeric and vermilion paste to themselves, as a celebration of their fertility. In these times, it is no more than a tea party, the application of pastes has become symbolic.

**antakshari: a game played in India, wherein a person sings part of a popular Bollywood song, and the next person has to carry on by singing a song that starts from the letter or syllable the first person ended on.

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