04 Nov 2018 05:38am IST
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa
You know Diwali is approaching, not necessarily by the change in the weather, but when the effigies of the giant Narkasur begin to be made in the neighbourhood and all along the streets you take. A few decades ago, there would be one Narkasur every kilometre or even after a gap of a few kilometres, now there is one every few metres, sometimes they stand at handshaking distance, leading to fierce competition among the groups to make the best, the biggest, the fiercest, the prize winner.
Once, the skeleton of the Narkasur was made of thin strips of wood, nailed together and then covered with hay to give shape to the body, enclosed in newspaper, and then dressed up in coloured paper. The face mask that had been made by the neighbourhood lads, and painted to make him look ferocious, was the last to be placed on the effigy, completing it. Today the skeleton is generally made out of malleable iron that has been welded together and around which newspapers are wrapped, or to give it a more muscular form wicker baskets are placed and then covered with newspapers, before the final touches are given, usually with paint. Here too the face mask, today often picked up from the market rather than handmade, is the last to be placed on the effigy.
Earlier, when the effigy was consigned to the flames, it turned to ashes, totally, except for the nails that joined the wooden slabs. Today, the flames leave back the iron skeleton for use for the next year, and the next and sometime for even longer, in a way there is recycling happening.
Earlier, the Narkasurs were created every year from scratch, as the ashes that remained of the previous year were swept away by the municipal sweepers, or they just blew away over the next few days with the wind. Now, there is a ready skeleton that for a year remains in a corner and is dragged out soon after Dushera, when the Narkasur making commences. For a fortnight, the boys and young men toil into the night getting the effigy ready, the quiet stillness of the late hours broken only by their banter and laughter. Three days or so before the Narkasur night the spot on the road where it is to be installed is earmarked and cordoned off, with no questions asked and no eyebrows raised, even if this means that a parking spot has been set aside for the effigy.
On the eve of Diwali, the music starts mid-morning to continue well into the night and the effigy is brought from the back of the building, colony or neighbourhood to the roadside and erected. Throughout the day, vehicles passing by slow down and gawk at the effigy, by evening the lights come on giving the figure the ferocious look that it is known for, and traffic slows to a crawl, mobile phones are taken out and pictures clicked and forwarded on social media. It is almost dawn before these pieces of art, on which nights have been spent and money has been invested are consigned to the flames, signifying the triumph of good over evil, and the festival of lights becomes truly memorable in the neighbourhood.
It’s tomorrow, Narkasur night that is, and the Diwali decorations have been coming up in the shops in the city and across the State. It is supposed to be the darkest night of the darkest period, and from there leads to the celebration of light. To signify this, the akash kandil will go up in homes this evening or tomorrow, every house will have the lighted lamp or a row of flickering lamps adorning the balcony, the sweets will be distributed, the foods cooked and consumed and Diwali ushered in. There will be merrymaking, as it is a holiday, and then what? If Diwali is the triumph of good over evil, can it also reflect in the practices that are being made today in society? Can we not allow the triumph of good over evil to be not just a symbolic burning of an effigy that has been so painstakingly made, but make it a practice of our everyday life?
Diwali is not just about preparing the Narkasur, decorating the home, offices and shops, dressing up in new clothes and burning of fire crackers and sparklers. These are but momentary expressions of the joy of the people on the festival. Diwali should ostensibly bring about a change in the way of life, otherwise it loses meaning and there is little significance to burning the evil, when the evil still resides within.
Goa today is straddling a crucial period, when it is threatened by massive changes of its geographical layout, where its hills are being flattened, its fields are being buried, its forests denuded, its rivers encroached. On Saturday evening, farmers from Tulaskarwadi in Cansarvanem village of Pernem taluka came to Panjim with tears in their eyes telling of a heart-wrenching tale of fruit bearing trees cut overnight. The fruit of these trees was their only means of livelihood. What Diwali will these farmers celebrate, when according to their estimates 15,000 fruit bearing trees have been felled?
When the Narkasur is burnt tomorrow night, let it take up in smoke the demons that conspire to turn Goa into a land that has been lost forever. Let the light next morning shine upon a land that has much to celebrate, rather than mourn, bringing a smile to the lips of the Goenkar, and a spring to his step, rather than thoughts of suicide, as has the Cansarvanem farmer who cried over his lost trees. It is time that the tears of sorrow that are shed for Goa, turn into tears of joy. May this Diwali open our eyes to what is going on around us in our very neighbourhoods and also beyond, and lead us to make a positive difference for Goa, for our State, for our land, otherwise Diwali will remain just another festival of lights, a ritual that is played out annually commemorating an event of the past whose relevance does not percolate into the system. And so we need to change that, and it needs to be done urgently, for Goa is changing fast and it will soon be a land that generations of the past won’t recognise.