Tuesday, August 05, 2008

God knows

Saturday night, after some total chilling by the river near Bhadreswar (there was beer, peace and quiet, great home-cooked food), we started the drive back to Calcutta. GT Road should be clear at 10 p.m.

Except that it wasn’t. First swarms, then hordes, then bloody phalanxes of men tramped in the opposite direction. Gamchhas round waists and sometimes round their heads as well, poles over their shoulders with a pot slung on each end. Some of them carried extra-large poles and pots – we’re talking humongous here, with those things they needed the turning circle of a 16-wheel trailer truck - for extra credit with the gods. All on their way to Tarakeswar to offer libations there. A million able-bodied males wasting days of their lives to pour water over a divine dick.

Then there were the papier-mache monstrosities carried by 4 men at a time. Comic to the point of horror. The Shivas were recognizable, but that hairy thing? Hanuman? What did he have to do with Shiva? (Would somebody enlighten me?) And those goats? On closer examination, they were goats-with-humps, so perhaps they were meant to be bulls. You know, Nandi, Bhringi.

It was just about tolerable at first. But as the night wore on, we found we’d already spent 2 hours traversing half the distance that had taken us 75 minutes in the morning. Through traffic. Very Small Person was sporting, but there are limits to a 4-yr-old’s endurance. She was sick. I was livid.

Near Uttarpara, the road was totally blocked by the human flood. It was past midnight, VSP was curled up in my lap desperately tired but unable to sleep because of the din. (One group was playing the well-known devotional song Tootak tootak tootiyan) We were stuck at a roundabout with traffic trying to come in from the right, a bus trying to back into a side-lane and (suddenly) the first traffic in the opposite direction that we’d seen in 2 hours.

Then it got ugly.

The flood poured through between the stalled vehicles. And expressed their displeasure at finding CARS blocking their route of march. CARS? On a ROAD? What the f*** do they think they’re doing here? Kick them! Thump them! Call ‘em names! Which was what they did. My tolerance was low because VSP was terrified, but I couldn’t even open the door because of the crush of bodies. At the same time, I was sick to my stomach with fear. I’ve seen cars – with people inside – that have been overturned in similar situations. And set on fire.

I can see the other guy’s point of view up to a point. These blokes were tired, footsore, thirsty, aching. A large number of them were also blind drunk. Lumpens. Fortunately, the fit passed. We were left alone. Eventually, the cars moved. We reached home at a quarter to 2.

The point to note was that, for 2 hours and 30 kilometres, there was not a single policeman in sight. No barricades. No markers. Nobody to control traffic. So in that frightening moment at midnight, I called up the District Magistrate. The DM had taken charge about a day before, but she reacted quickly. When I next called from the safety of the Calcutta side of the river, she said that police had “been dispatched”. Normally I wouldn’t presume so far as to advise another officer (no matter how junior) on their job, but (a) I’d been in the middle of it with my family and (b) I’ve worked in that district in two stints and I know that there is a police station and two outposts within 15 minutes’ walk from there. So I suggested that she should tell her SP to do something about this jamboree, which will be repeated every Saturday night for a month. Otherwise there could be a stampede, people might die. The press will bay for her head.

Bad ch’i.

Next day the Naina Devi temple was in the news. Auspicious day my ass.146 dead bodies. Women and children. If this God exists, s/he makes Heath Ledger’s Joker look like a goody two-shoes.

And the day after, they posted personnel along the route. I’m so disgusted I don’t even want to say “I told you so”.

I think the moral of the story is, God might try to kill people in nasty ways, but people should be smart enough to plan against it.


Partho said...

So that was the ire of the administration at its own incompetence speaking. Sad.
Don't you think it strikes us ordinary mortals who have to endure such situations on a regular basis as some supremely ironic poetic justice?
Sadder still, I know of perfectly educated gentlemen in Bihar and Jharkhand who, Sawan ko ane do, will join these hordes en route to Baba dham.
BTW, circumspect ordinary mortals, twice shy, would take a detour via Durgapur expressway on such a return trip. And spend some toll money across the shiny new bridge.
Yes, I hail from that area. Brought back bitter sweet memories, your post did.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

(nods quietly and refuses to take the bait)

As for the Expressway, by the time we realised how bad the situation was, we were in too deep to get out. (Now for some crack about standard bureaucratic prescience)


Lazyani said...

Well, this is a rather common phenomenon, isn't it? I have had the misfortune of having to move about on a rathyatra day, in Puri, with a relative who had a fractured leg, looking for some urgent medical treatment.

As usual , there was no doctors around and the there was no help from the administration. Seeing the mob swaying that day, we felt that some day there is going to be a stampede.

It happened this year , taking lives.

I don't know why we wait for God to 'show us the way.'

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Ouch! that brings back memories of teeth-grinding frustration at having to wait endlessly for the Bacchanalian Tarakeshwar-bound hordes to pass (I lived somewhere along the route from god-damned-ness to God). And they would, y'know, pass comments on us girls (as we were back then), pass wind, pass everything but themselves off the road. I can totally empathise with you, esp. re Very Small Person's trauma.

Indian said...

Make your decisions the way God makes for you.

Phantasmagoria said...

Scary. Wouldn't have liked to be there. Especially with my kids.