Tuesday, February 25, 2014

An evening in Kinnar.
            It was Friday, the thirteenth of October and people celebrating Dusherra. In Northern India believe Lord Rama, who epitomises good, vanquished and killed the demon king Ravan on that day. In the south the significance is different. The all -powerful Mother Kali killed the demon Mahisasura and they celebrate the occasion as Vijayadashmi.  It is the victory on the tenth day. In some parts it is the day when the Pandavas came out of exile and picked up their weapons and fought the Mahabharata war at Kurukshetra. Whichever be the reason, Ram, Kali or Krishna, Hindus rejoice and celebrate the triumph of good over evil. 
            Each and every household in this small town of Kinnar in Karnataka decorated their houses, small or big, with strings of bright coloured marigolds and fresh mango leaves hanging artistically from the main doors. The entrance of the house was beautified with intricate designs filled with red, green, white, dark blue, orange and purple coloured rangòli called moggu locally. The women and teenage girls allowed their creative juices to flow, as their delicate fingers moved deftly to the many melodious folk songs to entertain all around.
            The older women busied themselves cooking many goodies like the mouth watering south Indian delicacy Bobbattu, known as Pooran poli in Maharashtra. The main courses were lemon rice or coconut rice with a curry and gravy. Most of the ingredients used were what was locally available from the fields or dairy products from the cows and buffaloes they kept in the backyard. They used milk, rice, coconut, jaggery, and sesame seeds. Small kids stealthily tasted the mouth-watering goodies. Sometimes the older boys sent the innocent young children to steal the goodies for them.  They hoped the little ones would have their ears boxed if caught in the act of grabbing.
            The vibrant coloured dresses both added to and completed the festive atmosphere. All this hustle and bustle on Dusherra stems from the firm belief in the message of the Gita, the sacred book of Hindus,   that says, the Lord comes down from age to age to reduce the burden of evil on Mother Earth and establishes the unquestioned supremacy of good.
This year, Kinnar was excited, for another reason too. The local elections were announced for the state assembly for the 17th of October. The announcements and jingles on the radio and television added to the auspicious fervour. Naturally, the Election Day would be a holiday for offices, schools and the one college they had. Those buildings would be used as polling stations for the elections. The campaigning would end today and then the hopefuls would wait for the electorate to cast their precious vote.
 This is the one time in every five years, when the voter feels like a monarch. The common man has the power to bring a party to power or dump it. Party workers and leaders woo the voters in royal style like the bridegroom and his family is treated on the wedding day. Friend and foe greet you and coax you to vote for their party or candidate. Hand-bills are pushed into the voter’s hand with a smile and sweets are distributed. Personal invitations are extended for the public meetings like today in the temple courtyard. The shrewd politicians know what platform is suitable to woo the voter and today could not have been a better time. The mood of the public was perfect. The venue was excellent as everyone wants to seek the blessings of the grama-devata the reigning deity of the town, so attendance would be near hundred percent.
After a hearty festive meal, the people began to move towards the temple located on the right-bank of river Krishna. The events that made history or milestones in the lives of the locals, were held in the extensive temple courtyard.
As mentioned, today the attraction of visiting the temple was two-fold, religious and political. Hardly anyone stayed home for their accustomed afternoon siesta. Even thieves gave up their livelihood for a while, though the timing was perfect for a bit of loot. They arrived like gentlemen in clean clothes. It was their way of paying their respects to the Goddess. 
Mother Kali, who not only bestowed boons on her deserving devotees, also punished the guilty. The idol is in black granite. Her eyes emit fire and her tongue hangs out in fury.  One of her four hands holds the head of a demon.  Her open hair to the waist appears to be flying.
She, for all her children, is the divine Shakti, which is omnipresent in prakrit in manifold forms.
In the background, the beating of drums alternated with the auspicious Nàdaswaram, heralding the all-important occasion. From the eastern and western entrance of the temple, women and men were seen walking hand in hand smiling and exchanging festive greetings. Behind them, two bulls walked from each of the entrances towards the central court of the temple. The smooth temple floor was spic and span. The pillars were decorated with bright coloured flower garlands loosely wound round them. The central entrance was decorated with strings of white jasmines hanging like a curtain.
The two bulls were deep dark brown in colour, almost merging into black. The sheen of their coat showed their pedigree and their healthy bodies. Their eyes shone and the bells in their necks jingled to the rhythm of their walk, which was a trifle quick. They wore blood-red rose garlands around their necks. The atmosphere was charged with unbelievable excitement and high expectations.
          From the eastern entrance Buddhi, meaning intellect, made his entrance. He was followed by the local candidates, important personalities and party workers of the “Peoples’ Progress Party.”  The main leader, a man in his thirties, was patting Buddhi to calm him because animals are sensitive to loud sounds. Guru, a forward-looking visionary, had an outstanding academic record, with a master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Bombay. Soon after leaving the university, he plunged headlong into an active political career.  He held the conviction, that he could guide his people to move towards self-development and prosperity, while adhering strictly to the best principles of democracy.  In front of the main entrance of the temple, he removed his footwear, closed his eyes, folded his hands in all humility and bowed his head before Mother Kali and then moved to a seat, which had seen better days.
       From the western side came the other bull Balwan that turned its garlanded head to the words “Balwan is Pehalwan, hamaara pehalwan ki jai[1]”.  A foreigner in the crowds asked a neighbor who spoke English what that one liner meant. Promptly came the reply in broken English, “the big bull  Balwan is strong like wrestler. Victory to him.”  It shook its head rather vigorously and walked like a peacock oozing arrogance.
     Durga Das, popularly known by one and all as Dada, followed. Few remembered his formal name. ”Dada,” a self-styled leader was orphaned before he could crawl. As a result, formal education was out of the question for him.  Life was his “teacher”.  In his life he followed the law of the jungle and indulged in anti social activities. His self-esteem was sky-high and he dressed always in white. Today it was spotlessly white, washed by the local dhobi who was almost always never paid. His beard was untrimmed and the hair rather long. He was chewing tobacco and waving to anyone who acknowledged him. 
A small crowd gathered around him.  He talked to them and patted a few backs but from the corner of his eyes he slyly looked at Tanushree, the only child of Raju, the local zamindar.  As her name suggests, she was undoubtedly endowed with rare beauty and grace.  She was unaware of her stunning looks and the surreptitious glances from Dada as she laughed and joked with her friends. Tanushree had the brains too and was very well educated. Dada in his heart of hearts admired educated people but ran down education in public.
          Dada spotted Guru and swaggered up to him, hugged him ostentatiously and said “I bring greetings today from my party to you and your party.” Guru reciprocated his party’s greetings of peace and goodwill. The drums stopped beating and the priest said in his clear gentle voice, which echoed through the loud speakers: “Victory to you all.  May the Divine Mother bless each one of you. This year’s bullfight is to humour us all and maybe forecast the political future for Kinnar.  Buddhi and Pehalwan will participate in the fight.” Even today in the twenty-first century, we can’t totally give up being superstitious. As is customary the head of the vanquished bull will be offered to Mother Kali, who, alone, knows what is best for us, her children. People felt that the Mother is guiding them and they ought to vote for the party whose bull won today.
     Dada, as usual, keen to have the last word took the mike and said, “My party believes we are with the people and they need me to think for the good of my people living here. I am pleased to be honoured this way by the Mother herself. Kinnar is Dada and your Dada is Kinnar.”
     Quickly the drums began to beat to a crescendo and then Guru and Dada walked up to the two heroes of the day, Buddhi and Balwan. They anointed the foreheads of the two heroes with the traditional Tilak. They appeared to be two emperors rather than two animals going for a bullfight.
 The two contestants were fed grass and molasses and patted by the political heroes. Guru kissed Buddhi and patted it almost wishing him to use his brain while fighting. Dada patted Balwan from the head all the way down to the tail and conveyed, “You are strong and use your brawn.”
       In one voice all who were gathered shouted, “Maha Kali ki Jai” thrice, cutting across all social and political barriers to ask the Mother of the universe for Her blessings. Each one gathered there prayed for the victory of Dharma (morally right) and wanted the guidance of the universal Mother. The moment had come. Silence prevailed as the two heroes of the day, Buddhi and Balwan charged at each other and the spectators waited with bated breath. The pregnant silence almost spoke each one’s mind that Buddhi and Balwan held the key to the result of the coming election.
Guru and Dada looked at each other trying to read each other’s mind as the animals gauged each other’s strengths and attacked each other leaving behind a curtain of dust.  A keen, close, contest followed and in the end Buddhi lay on the ground, most dignified in death.  No clapping or shouting followed. Each of the spectators questioned the result of the fight and were sorry that intelligence had lost today to sheer brawn. Was this a message for them from the Mother to think for oneself rather than follow blindly and remain in the darkness of ignorance as would be the case if Balwan alone ruled the people and Buddhi left us forever.
       People’s minds recalled all that happened.  On the one hand, superstition beckoned them to do what superstitions indicated and on the other, logic that showed  something hitherto unknown or ignored.  Their minds swung between the two extremes like a pendulum when they discussed the future of Kinnar that lay in their hands. What should decide whom they should vote for? Guru sure had a simple charisma without the mass appeal of Dada who could get really emotional and sway people.
               When the zero hour came, there was a lot of turmoil in the electorate’s minds. Buddhi or Balwan haunted them. It seemed this election was all-important as the future path and the character of Kinnar and her people depended on the voting pattern. They could choose to be a role model electorate or go to seed like many other constituencies in the past. Very few could sleep the night before the elections. Hordes of thoughts churned their minds but no one dared to talk aloud as this decision was totally the individual’s in the secret ballot. Many a woman found the husband tossing and turning and many husbands found their spouses wide awake.
            The Mother seemed to be guiding her children in a strange but certain way by making them think for themselves rather than perform miracles. This in itself is a novel way of learning. The women were not to be influenced by their spouses or elders in the family.  They were individual thinking people in their own right and not doormats in a democracy. They were equal partners and not subservient to follow the decisions made by the men folk in the house.
On the Election Day, not one single eligible citizen abstained from voting. Even the animals were silent. Long winding queues ended finally at sunset when the ballot boxes were sealed. Everyone slept well that night without a care in the world as they had done themselves proud.
On the 21st. of November all were gathered again in the temple courtyard to hear the election result. Dada looked as if he was invincible. He waved and smiled like a monarch who would wear the crown shortly. He believed that he is the undoubted winner and looked at Guru patronizingly.
The TV announced, “A great upset in Kinnar. The seat has been won by the Peoples’ Progress Party by a thumping majority.”
Guru gave Dada a look, which said it all: “People alone are our strength.”  Omens mean nothing. 
(Sesh Rao Damerla)

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