Forced Devotion

With one hand firmly placed on my temple to press the throbbing vein, I popped the second pill for headache in the bleak hope of numbing the pain. The loudspeaker was still blaring. I peeped out of the window in the hope that the people dancing there would be tiring out by now. Sigh! They were still going strong. The tune of the song was from a popular number that involved a scantly clad woman gyrating to the beat, but the words were from a devotional song.

It’s the ‘sacred time’ of the year. And so a vast majority of people get to be at their religious best, shunning alcohol and meat, going to temples regularly, and holding Jagarans. Now I am fine as long as the religious fervour is limited to their personal eating and drinking habits, but it is the night time prayers (on a public address system mind you!) that completely gets my goat. When I say night, I mean right through to the wee hours of the next morning.

Don’t start with the brickbats yet! I am a firm believer of God, but I also believe that God doesn’t have a high decibel range for prayers. A silent prayer goes a longer way than the blaring speakers in the middle of the night, but a big chunk of people completely disagree with that line of thought. For them, the louder you are, the happier the Lord, and if it is to the tune of a pulsating movie song – you’ve just earned brownie points!

At 9 in the night, the loud speakers came alive, and refused to die down thereafter. Right from Jalebi bai and Tinku Jiya to the relatively older ‘khaeekey paan banaras wala,’ the mandli belted out bhajan after bhajan on these tunes. A pandal had been put up bang in the middle of the road with bright psychedelic lights and a mother of all set of speakers. I could see women clad in the brightest and shiniest possible sarees dancing (more like jumping) away to the torturously loud beats.

At one o’clockin the night, when the migraine got worse, I decided to try our good old Haryana Police. So first, I googled for the phone number of the nearby station. The local chowki wasn’t listed so I took down the number of the nearest station. For a few seconds I stared at the number, contemplating whether or not to call. We all know of stories of sleeping or drunk policemen, right? What if I got shouted at for calling about a ridiculously trivial issue, or worse, what if unmentionables were hurled at me? But then it was past midnight, and my only quiet time of the day getting snatched from me was becoming less and less of a trivial issue. I finally dialed and got through. You have to remember that it is past mid night, and expecting civil answers from the voice at the other end was out of question. I half expected a sleepy voice to answer the phone if at all, and then tear me up in my own native language for disturbing him for such a minor thing. So why did I call? Well, if I ain’t sleeping, you ain’t either! Anyway, I nearly fell off my chair when I was greeted with a ‘good evening’! It was like calling a credit card BPO with the difference only being that the Hindi was in a heavy Haryanvi accent! I quickly recovered from the shock and stated my problem.

His response albeit very polite was, “This issue pertains to God. We can’t do anything. And anyway, your area doesn’t come under this thana.”

“So can you give me the relevant thana’s number?”

O ji kya karoge? Bhagwan ka mamla hai.”

I hung up and almost felt guilty. He made it sound like a case of me versus God. I buried my head under a pillow trying desperately to catch some sleep.  At two, I gave up. As I sat up and popped another pill for the now worse headache, I wondered if indeed nothing could be done in the ‘matters of God’. With sleep eluding and head throbbing, I reached for the phone and called up a few more police stations in the hope that they would have the local chowki’s number. A good thing was that every time the phone was picked within a ring or two and a respectful voice answered. The amusing thing – none of them had the number! Finally, one of the guys was nice enough to give me the control room’s mobile number.

Before calling, I peeped out of the window yet again to see if the fervor had died down a bit but they were still wildly dancing to a bhajan which sounded like ‘jhumka gira re’. I clenched my teeth and glanced at the clock. It was3.00 AM. I dialed.

After another round of explaining the ‘mudda’ (for the uninitiated, that means ‘issue’), the distinctly haryanvi voice first admonished me for not knowing the local police station’s number. Apology was in order. What he said next surprised me more.

“You don’t worry. We will send the PCR to check.”

Have you ever heard of a Police car reaching anywhere in time or in fact reaching at all? Thanks to our movies, Police is seen in a not so glorious light. Exactly eight minutes later I heard a pin drop silence. I rushed to the window and sure enough there it was! A white gypsy with blinking red lights. They apparently told them to lower the volume a bit which they did, for precisely thirty seconds after they left. And the eardrum tearing levels were back.

Although the migraine is still there, I feel good. Not because I succumbed to religious fervor but because our Police department actually reacted to my concern which was trivial if you compare it to the first page of the newspaper….or for that matter even the eighth! They not only heard me but tried to help. We all know that ‘religious matters’ are left untouched, yet they tried, in the dead of the night, to address the problems of a crazy middle aged woman who just randomly called them in no hope!

Coming back to the devout singers, I might be hurting some sentiments here but I find the entire idea ridiculous. I see the very same people duping others, not extending a helping hand, and kicking that stray puppy on the road. And yet they sing with the belief that their’s is a pious soul. They sing and dance, and feel good about themselves for having held such an opulent ceremony. The same money could have been quietly used to feed some hungry mouths or cover some naked bodies but that would have gone unnoticed in the heavens above. After all, God according to them notices only loud displays.

As for the bhajans, it is 3.30 A.M., and they are still singing and dancing in the false hope that Gods will be forced to bless them. I sincerely doubt that. All it is going to yield is a couple of annoyed neighbors (me leading that pack), tired limbs and hoarse throats. Religion is a way of life, not an emotion on display. The simplest path to getting prayers answered, is not asking for anything. As long as we are grateful for what we have and as long as we keep our conscience clear, we don’t need to sing at unearthly hours to get into the good books!

God doesn’t need loudspeakers and drum beats.The only character I remember waking up to drum beats and loud noises was Kumbhkarana and not any God. God doesn’t need noise and definitely not to the tune of ‘saadi gali aaya karo.’