The Grand Fair on the Banks of the Great, the Younger Sister and the Subtle

Update for week ended 1 February 2013


“I want to go along, too. I too want to go along” was the adamant strain that Monu kept reciting with pleading eyes to his mother, mostly. Monu’s parents were planning on travelling to the Grand Fair by the Great River this year. Although this fair visited the banks of the confluence of the three rivers, the Great, the Younger Sister and the Subtle River every four years, Monu’s parents Ramlal and Vimla, had never visited it. This year, they planned to undertake the short journey by bus and then by train to get to the city of the Grand Fair. Monu was all of 5 and rarely stayed away from his mother. His father used to work far away in a city that he only knew as Rajdhani, and would visit on special occasions, like his first birthday and ceremonial shaving of head  or the death of his grand uncle and sometimes during the monsoon months to help the family with the farmwork. This year he was with the family to attend the Grand Fair. Monu had started sobbing and stopped eating and kept on his adamancy and crying, till he almost went short of breath on that foggy, wintry morning. Vimla tried enthusing him with promises of gifts like a toy bus or a golden stuffed horse. But Monu was inconsolable. He wanted to go with them. She reasoned that it would be very crowded there with Sadhu Babas, ascetics in long flowing beards, who would scare him or even kidnap him. Moreover it would be very cold, and he would have to wake up before dawn for the dip in the ice-cold river and he would have to sleep in the open. And the walk to the river would be miles and miles away. How could the little boy endure so much of trouble? Ramlal looked at the little boy and lifted him to his shoulder and told Vimla, “this boy is light, I think we can manage to take him to the fair “. Monu’s eyes lit up and you could see the twinkle in them despite the tears. And off they went to the Grand Fair City by the Great River. On alighting from the crowded train, Monu could only see a sea of legs moving around him and he was scared and felt lost. His father was carrying the little box carrying their clothes and some offerings for the festive river, apart from the cash that he had earned at Rajdhani. Vimla walked closely to her husband as she too was overwhelmed by the crowds that spilled out of the station onto the streets. Ramlal asked Monu to hold onto to his finger as they negotiated their way out of the station to the nearby bus stand that had buses and mini buses plying to many places including to the Fair grounds/banks. At the Fair Grounds, they could see tents all the way to the horizon and despite the fog, the bright sodium lamps lit the place up in an orange glow. Monu had never seen anything like this before. He was mesmerized as he looked to his left and right, soaking in the sights and sounds of the place. He had many questions to his father – how was there so much light although  it was well past sundown? What were so many people doing at the foodstall. Why were some people clothed in ochre robes, while some had no clothes at all? Did they not feel cold? Won’t they also get asthmatic attacks like him? He could not see any trees nearby, so he wondered where people would rest after their afternoon repast? His grandfather always slept on the strung wooden cot under the mango tree in their courtyard every afternoon. That was also where Monu would play with his long moustache, twirling and tweaking it. At times, Dadaji, as he fondly called his grandfather, would yelp in pain, but quickly smile at the little boy admonishing him for the act. He would never scold Monu, his first grandson. And after all that walking, Monu was tired and asked for some rest. Vimla saw a stall that vended some hot fried bread, puri and some potato curry. She asked her husband, if they could stop and eat before proceeding to the tents. They stopped and that was when they felt the chill. It was cold and despite the hot fire on which the vendor fried small round bread, puris, the open air environment and the proximity to the river ensured that chilly winds engulfed the Fair Grounds. After the short stop, they started their journey to the tents, when Monu saw a bright setting with lights and life size paintings of a jeep, a car, a scooter, he got all excited. He asked his father what it was. Ramlal explained that the this was a Photo studio stall where you could take pictures of the family as though they were driving around in a jeep, or a scooter or a motor car in a big city. Monu had never sat in a car or a jeep or even bee to a big city and wanted to have  a picture of it. Ramlal smiled, looked at his wife Vimla, who smiled too and they left their luggage at the entrance and were guided by the photographer on how to stand and where to look at, and also with what expression on their faces. Monu was excited with the lights and colours. After the photo-shoot, Ramlal paid for the photograph and picked up his luggage and along with Vimla and Monu walked out of the photo shop. That was when Monu saw a gathering, and he turned his turned his head as far left and back as he could to see what was happening. He could see through the gaps of the legs of the men gathered around, glimpses of a Sadhu, with his face aglow from a fire nearby, perhaps.  The sight scared him, and he looked up to his father to ask……. But he did not see his father? He looked to his right, up, left, back. He turned around and searched for the familiar faces of Ramlal and Vimla and could not find them. He ran back to the photo shop a few steps away, and bumped through people who were shuffling through the crowded way. He searched for his parents at the studio. The cameraman seemed to recognize the young boy, but he was busy and said that they would be nearby. Monu wandered back in the direction that they had set-off to, but he was not sure which way to go after reaching the place where he had got lost, The Sadhu Baba gathering! By now, the crowds had thinned and the sad look on Monu’s face gave way to tears rolling down his cheeks. He was sobbing and crying out “Maa, Baba, Maa Baba”. But no-one seemed to have noticed the little lost boy. He sat down by the road side, tired and cold, when he saw someone approach him – what he saw from his bent position were ochre robes and as he lifted his head to look at the face of the person, he was terrified to see a Sadhu Baba stretching his hands forward to lift the boy!

It was the week of the Fairs. There were quite a few that were being held across the country including on streets of the cities, not far from D Street that would be closed to traffic to allow the gentry to enjoy the Fair. The Dark Horse Fair, The Bright Lady temple Fair, the Trade Fair, etc. And these places can be quite crowded and so full of people that some D Boyz could easily get lost there. So like in the story above, this week too, some D Boyz like Monu, insisted on visiting the fairs and got engulfed in the crowds. The crowds kicked up dust and smoke and the foggy conditions at times were attributed to the smoke and dust. The Boyz took a Tata bus to one of the fairs held on a island or a sand bar actually in the middle of the river. The temporary bridge was shaky and although the bus did not fall off the bridge, the sudden swerve at the end of the bridge, caused some of the luggage on the roof of the bus to spill out and fall. Rumours immediately floated around that the bus had met an accident and the D Street was in chaos. The SENSEX tumbled like  a bus into a river from a bridge. It was only late on the Friday evening that the real news of just the slip reached D Street. But the damage was done to the D Boyz’ confidence as they dropped their SENSEX form the 20000+ levels at the beginning of the week to 19781 – close to 300 points down!

Monu screamed as the middle aged Sadhu picked him up. Monu’s reflex was to hit out at him. But those little hands could do little to divert the Sadhu. Then Monu clutched at the beard and gave it a strong tug, to which the Sadhu yelped. He however did not let go and instead took the boy to the tent by the wayside next to the burning bonfire that Monu had just seen from behind a curtain of legs. Monu was so scared  that he now stopped crying and only looked on goggle eyed. His jaws dropped as he saw that it was a temporary settlement of Sadhus. There were Sadhus of different shapes, sizes and ages. There were even some young ones who did not have beards, and were clean shaven. He saw the usual trappings of worship near the entrance. Some idols, a garlanded picture of Gods and Goddesses, some lamps glowing warmly and the brass bells and platters. Monu was stifling his cries and sobs, but could not control it any longer. He let out a loud cry and his pent up energy to kick, hit, punch the Sadhu who was carrying him. The Sadhu sat him down on a wooden cot, not unlike his grandfather’s. Monu did not know why that comforted him a bit. Even the face of the sadhu who sat on a stool nearby did not seem as scary as he had imagined. In fact he felt some sort of comfort as though his grandfather was close by. He dropped his head on the strings of the cot and covered his eyes from the side of his face like blinkers on a horse. He now cried, but peacefully. The elderly Sadhu spoke softly to him, ”Little boy. What is your name? Are you hungry? Where is your mother?” The first 3 statements, Monu listened to between his sobs. He almost warmed up to his “kidnappers”. But the last statement was what threw him off gear again, and he bawled out loudly, refusing to be cajoled. He kept elbowing anyone who would touch to comfort him. The elder Sadhu walked up to the shrine and the brass plates. He picked up a handful of sugar candy on offer, and offered it to the little boy and said, “Little Boy Monu, have some. You like them, don’t you?” Monu was not as surprised by the gesture as he was by the fact that the Sadhu had called him by his name. He stopped crying, but his face was wet, pink and his nose was sniffling. “How do you know my name?” he asked. The Sadhu sat up Monu, straightened his hair, wiped his tears off the swollen cheeks and passed his palm over Monu’s shirt pocket. It had  a handkerchief pinned onto it with a chain stitch design of a name in Devnagari, Monu. Vimla had stitched this onto the kerchief so that it wouldn’t get mixed up with that of his friends at school.

So this week we visited two urban fairs. One was truly urban where one could eat Teppanyaki noodles and cool it down with Strawberry cheesecake or choose to have Puris with Undhiyu and cool it down with Jalebis. It was also a place where neckpieces form Colaba causeway were sold by “tribal artists” at prices that the multiples of the quoted price on the Causeway. All for a cause, we were told. I still preferred the causeway! The art installations were less art, more installations. But maybe my sense of art was so out of place!

The other fair was one of fun and gaiety and of moving to the urban city and yet had its heart at the right place. It did not pretend to sell “ethnic” goods and food. It sold what people clamoured for. Toys, cosmetics, bangles, hairclips. And had rides that could get even middle aged people squealing like kids in rickety giant wheels. The cameraman was here with his cinema star cutouts that one could pose with, while the children got their fill with the kulfi and ice golas.

You can guess which fair I liked!

Do let me know of your Fair experiences!

Have a nice week ahead … cheers….

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