As a lead up to Dusshera next week, we should ideally be focusing on the victory of good over evil. At least, that is the whole objective of Ravan’s effigies being dramatically burnt across India wherever Ram Lila is still celebrated in the traditional way. I received a call from Rajeev Sethi, a dear friend in Delhi who had just opened an arts complex in Mehrauli, and was disheartened to note that the memories of Ram Lila being staged in the village when he was a child, were just that — memories. Hardly anybody in Mehrauli remembered what those times were like. Determined to revive the old tradition, he went on a mini-hunt, to locate young boys willing to undertake the challenge. Here’s the good news: He located Mehrauli’s version of the now-famous “Gully Boys”, and persuaded them to attempt their interpretation of the Ram Lila. From all accounts, the experiment was successful, if unconventional! I love the idea of rappers staging such a performance and I wish I could have seen it! This is just to say, every festival metamorphoses over time — which is what it should be. Celebrations are not static and must change in order to stay relevant and appeal to the next generation.
In Kolkata, Ma Durga presides over thousands of incredibly inventive pandals — each one with a unique theme and specific décor. The one that caught my fancy was a video featuring not the traditional moortis, but a human tableau, with beautiful people playing the roles which depict Ma Durga vanquishing Mahishasura, surrounded by Ganeshji, Karthikeya, Saraswati and Lakhshmi… and… I watched the video several times and heard the main protagonists explain their commitment to participating in the display. It took a year’s practice and sheer hard work to sit still for hours at a stretch, while devotees flocking to the pandal stare in wonder and wait for Ma Durga to blink or fidget.
There was another movie-style video featuring one of West Bengal’s biggest heroes, India’s former cricket captain Sourav Ganguly, and a bevy of beauties singing and dancing inside what looked like a film set. This “devotional” video was shot like any popular dance reality show on television, and the costumes worn by the beauties were a mix of Sanjay Leela Bhansali on a budget, with two prominent dancers doing their version of the Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai standoff (“Dola Re”). Nice. Sourav himself looked perfectly at home, performing on the director’s cues like a seasoned matinee idol of the 1990s. Cannot imagine an Uttam Kumar participating in something like this. Nor do I see Sachin Tendulkar engaging in an energetic Ganpati aarti dance. Though, I can easily visualise Rohit Sharma bhangra-dancing to celebrate Baisakhi. Virat Kohli is half a movie star in any case — literally and figuratively. I am pretty sure he’ll be signing up with a major studio for a dhoom dhadaka Bollywood production in the near future. I mean… take a look at his Manyavar commercials. The man is more than three quarters of the way there already.
I love the idea of our myriad festivals seeping into our everyday and rather mundane lives so seamlessly. Given the lackluster economic scenario right now, I had anticipated a dull festive season with zero sparkle left for Diwali. I may be proved wrong, after all. Despite what the newspapers say about a crippling slowdown, the local markets are crowded and bustling, with frenzied shoppers grabbing everything in sight. Society ladies are hosting their annual “charity” fashion extravaganzas for the well-heeled, like nothing has happened. And most of the priciest five-star resorts are sold out during this season, despite steep room tariffs and rocketing airline prices. Some of the biggest real estate deals in Mumbai were cracked just last week with — don’t gasp — sales of sea facing apartments starting at `100 crores. So, I really don’t get it… must speed-dial my pal Raghuram Rajan to seek some clarity. I spoke to my friendly neighbourhood jeweler, who confirmed he was out of top grade solitaires, unable to match the demand. Wedding planners aren’t cutting costs either, and those importing exotic blooms from foreign suppliers are saying the price of peonies is prohibitive, but petulant brides are insisting — it’s peonies or nothing. Goodbye, rajnigandha. Honeymooners are sticking to adventure and are bubbly — across the Atlantic. They are taking friends along… because honeymoons are more fun when there’s a crowd! Kiddie parties for the bachchalog have been taken up a notch with back presents featuring the latest Apple phones. Diwali gift hampers have been converted into major statements by corporates. No longer do these annual offerings feature choccies, mithai and diyas. Oh no… too pleb. Turkish delights, baklava and artisanal gin it has to be. Someone, somewhere seems to have all the dosh… but nobody’s sayin’ nuthin’.
Mixed signals seem to be here, there and everywhere. Since Gandhiji is oh-so-cool on his 150th birth anniversary year, we are witnessing fabulously mounted exhibitions galore, not just across India, but overseas as well. Despite the Mahatma euphoria, there are attempts to downsize his reputation by critics within the BJP, who are sounding churlish and petty. If the idea was to diminish the Father of the Nation, by getting Donald Trump to promote Prime Minister Narendra Modi to that status, sorry, nobody is buying it. A nation cannot possibly have two fathers! I am happy to compromise and settle for Junior Nephew of India for Namo. Nothing wrong in that position. Nephews also rise. Though, at this delicate point in Maharashtra’s history, with the state elections round the corner, it’s one phrase nobody should repeat in Sharad Pawar’s presence....