(CNS): France has shown the political courage to first ban the regressive burqa this year, and now the offering of prayers by Muslims in the French streets—given the fact that it is home to Europe's largest Muslim population. I wonder what would be the reaction of Mr Nicholas Sarkozy if he had to deal with not just the religious/social leanings of the Muslims, but of the Hindus, Sikhs and myriad other communities as well, as in India. We Indians not only love to stretch our family and religious festivities/gatherings to the streets, but also take it as our birth right to spit, shit, urinate, and dump garbage in them. The confines of disused barracks, discarded buildings or the lonely interiors of our humble homes are not enough for our mundane activities.
We are not miserly like the French and other westerners when it comes to sharing our joys with strangers, whether the latter like it or not. Haven't most of us—from pauper to princess, from glitterati to litterati—mindlessly held the traffic to ransom for long periods of time by gleefully dancing away to raunchy tunes in the marriage procession of a friend or relative or even a foe?
The Indian roads are public property, and it is our birth right to use them as and how it pleases us. If the perennial potholes/ garbage dumps or defective traffic lights put up by the government can disrupt smooth movement, then so can our idiosyncrasies. During the marriage seasons, one may encounter several such created traffic jams at short intervals. It is inconsequential if this results in someone missing trains, or reaching just too late to the hospital in case of medical emergencies. Those of us, who curse this very practice when we are at the receiving end of it, happily forget about it when our own time comes.
It was only in Gujarat (Baroda) that I saw, albeit several years ago, that the marriage party on its way to the groom's house, would stop at some empty plot of land, or market square, to perform their famous garba dance, without inconveniencing anyone, other than providing a visual treat to the interested passersby. I wonder if the gujaratis are still that considerate or have become brash. In my personal experience, I have never found them to be overtly displaying their wealth.
But we north Indians are made of sterner stuff. Apart from showing our dancing prowess bang in the middle of streets, we do not mind blocking stretches of arterial roads for the entire day or days with makeshift tents/pandals, for varied reasons. It could be the venue of a dinner/lunch party for a social occasion --wedding, birthday, tonsuring ceremony, thirteenth day feast of a dead relative, or a venue for holding communion with God.
The Sikhs do it in front of their gurudwaras at the drop of a hat—birthday celebrations of their long dead religious leaders, or some festival. The Hindus call upon their gods and more often upon their goddesses with night and day long loud ear splitting loud music, caring two hoots about the convenience of the lowly human beings living in the vicinity or daring to use the common thoroughfare to commute to their place of work, station, or hospital. God may still be alive but seems to have become deaf to the nonstop propitiations of us Indians, and hence the need of loudspeakers. The Muslims are happy to spill out their religious affectations over long stretches of roads (as in France), during the month of Ramadan, to offer namaaz or to hold iftar (fast breaking) parties. At other times it is their Friday evening prayers which necessiate the use of public roads. Add to this the frequent religious processions and political rallies favouring our cities, and you have a never ending lively chaos even in the by lanes. We dare not pass any stupid laws (like the French) against holding the common public to ransom in this way. After all we have to protect the religious sentiments and uphold the traditions of all, and civic inconvenience be damned.
It is perhaps the big fat Indian joint family concept which makes us involve all (and leave out none), in our festivities, with scant regard for personal preferences and conveniences. It is drilled into our psyche since infancy to sacrifice self for the other, forgetting the difference between the two—so that self becomes the other and other becomes self, depending upon the situation. Humour apart, next time when you match your steps with the bhangra tunes on the road, or help setting up a devi-jagran stall, or transform the street into your private dining room, do spare a thought for the poor student burning the mid night oil amid the cacophony of loud music; the helpless patient desperately trying to reach a hospital; the hapless traveller rushing to catch a train; and several other innocents who are being put to unnecessary trouble, just because of our insensitive attitude. For a change it may be better to have French Hearts (not the biscuits) rather than be Sher-e-Hinds (lions of India).
Bonjour and Merci!
Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. Email: [email protected], website: http://www.citizen-news.org)