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
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 , 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 .
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 , 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
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.