Well, we’ve all heard about the gods being crazy and having a warped sense of humour, but if you are a religious Indian, the chances are that God is deaf! Nope, not because our prayers fall on unheeding divine ears, but because we seem to think that when it comes to getting the message across, DECIBEL MATTERS.
In a country that has seen terrible communal riots—indeed, was partitioned on religious lines almost sixty years ago—it might be touching to note that followers of the two most popular religions are firmly united in their views that without a loudspeaker our prayers will not reach the heavens. I will willingly subject to a painful death anyone who holds romanticized notions of Indian religion: of muted temple bells and soothing azaans; mellow, bearded maulvis and saffron-clothed, barefoot pandits.
Reality is quite different. Social norms now dicate that brashness matters. Bigger, gaudier, louder. You get the picture.
Around this time of the year, Hindu pilgrims from the Himalayas descend into the plains, carrying holy water from Gangotri (beating up everyone who dares cross their path and making normal life for anyone living in the vicinity of their route quite impossible; in the past week, they have killed at least one person in Delhi and burnt an entire bus!). Of course, I am exaggerating, but only a little bit, for these pilgrims create havoc with the infrastructure. These… er… lovely people have free food, entertainment and other conveniences laid out for them thanks to the local administration (with taxpayers’ money, of course, not to mention their electricity and water supply). They ostensibly travel on foot, and encourage others to do so as well because they take up most of the space on roads. Living right on National Highway 8 (Grand Trunk Road), for the past week have had to put up with three gaudy tents across the streets, blaring music (different music, but simultaneously) non-stop all day. I have to shout to be heard inside the same room; haven’t slept; and can barely hear myself think.
Add to that the friendly neighbourhood mosque bellowing prayers loud enough to make your eardrums vibrate regularly five times a day, and you have a readymade hell. When Ramzaan comes along, we get a blow-by-blow account of the sun’s rising and setting over the loudspeaker right outside my window (and as the holy caretaker happens to run a restaurant just outside the mosque, we also get to hear the day’s menu!).
Oh, and let’s not forget the latest local rage: jagrans (prayer vigils), a Hindu ritual where one stays up all night praying (I think). What people do inside their own houses is their business, but not when they do it in front of a microphone!
Of course, this brings up the obvious question that why don’t the local adminstration do something? Well, it’s because when it comes to religion, skins are very thin in this part of the world. In the name of religion, you can get away with just about anything.