Sensory overload is so 20th century when it comes to describing life in India, particularly in Mumbai.
As I landed in the city last night, the ride home from the international airport to my brother Trilochan’s apartment in Versova gave me some time to think about new ways to capture the experience.I can’t say I have yet settled for a compelling term but let’s go with the very inadequate and even patronizing surreal for the limited purpose of today’s post. I say it is patronizing because it attributes to the unfolding of life in front of one’s eyes, a touch of the unreal or unprocessable when, in fact, for those who are living it it is all too real and comprehensible.
What became emblematic of that drive for me was the sight of two street vendors, both women, standing in front of two wicker baskets full of fluorescently illuminated toys such as balloon yoyos and bubble makers. Both wore plastic horns glowing with every conceivable color and lighting up their faces in a manner that made them look like apparitions from an altogether different realm. I saw a few bubbles land on the horns and popping.
What enhanced the effect for me was the constant beating of the drums and whipping up of oddly shrill music from the ubiquitous electronic synthesizers mounted on trucks. They were all part of what are these days daily ceremonious immersions of thousands of plaster of Paris Ganesh statues in the Arabian Sea during the annual festival of Ganesh Puja.
I navigated at least a dozen such processions, each full of people swaying in a trancelike state perfectly synchronized with the drums. Hundreds of policemen and women, surprisingly not harried by the goings on, directed the impromptu processions with the practiced ease of those who could not care less. Many of them were chatting on their mobile phones even as some of them swung their canes to control the participants.
As someone who is so primordially familiar with such scenes I had no trouble taking it all in without thinking much about the sheer, well, sensory overload. I intend writing more as I go along. For now let’s just live with the sight and sound of the women wearing fluorescent devil’s horns and rhythmic beating of the drums.