All eyes were drawn towards twenty-three black speaker cabinets of various shapes and sizes, stacked to form an uneasy monolith at the north end of the intersection. It boomed with one of the radio’s top songs, that despite its ubiquitous presence and universal appeal, had no relationship to the nature of that day - one of the holiest of days in the worship of our gods.
Casting a long vibrating shadow across a dancing mob that gathered at its feet, the stack was a god in its own way, having a hundred vinyl mouths singing in cheerful disregard of the holiday. The matte blackness of the wall of woofers, horns, and tweeters was adorned, draped, and bound with coarse rope that united the collection into a awkward mass of audio technology. Nuance was only an obstacle to this one-dimensional wall of noise, designed to bring music to the crowd in its bluntest form. Dancers in yellow trimmed with purple and drummers of every order ignored the uncomplicated shape of the music they were adding to with their singing and their drumming as they were caught in the rapture of the day to the point that, even though one could see the fifteen-foot tall edifice sway with the slightest breeze, the crowd was entirely too propelled in its own ecstasy to show fear toward their unpredictable master.
In a white mud-encrusted pickup truck, I came in from a street that was identical to the seven other streets that fed the intersection that would be the last turn before I reached home
Every year prior to this one, this stack had always bothered me - an incredible amount of work and attention for something so inadequate. The sloppy creation appeared annually on this day, always in a slightly different form, distracting everyone from the instructions of the Brahmins on how to celebrate our sacred festival. I had always taken these sacred warnings to heart. But, a year ago from this day was the last time I cared about the tower of sound that sat at the end of my street. It was now as real a god as any.
A dancing man dressed in a collarless white shirt and black linen pants jumped ahead of my truck, hands together above his head, fingers pointing to the sky, swaying in time to the music as he walked towards my truck. He was my neighbor and a friend of the family. He came to my window and talked as I crept through the crowd.
“Razak, I do not envy you today. I’ve heard your brother-in-law shouting your name in anger all week. He has been asking all around to borrow another truck in case you did not return.”
“I know, I know. I’m rushing to get home. I had too much business to take care of. I am ashamed to be so late.”
“Hmmm. Business before worship? So, unlike you, Razak. You have spent all of your minutes this holiday.” He nodded his head in goodbye and wove away, disappearing back into the throbbing mob.
I missed almost all of the ten-day holiday of Ganesha Chaturthi. My work as an archaeologist took me deeper into the jungles of the rarely-explored Kanyakumari, which was where we had uncovered an especially ancient temple – one older than any I had ever seen or heard of. I had to make it back home for a least this last day, which was called Ananti - a day that Prakash Pritani, the Brahmin, had always taught was supposed to be a day of moderate respectful worship, not one of manic pleasure seeking. The Lord Ganesh required that we follow the science of our faith in our actions and in the way we construct our objects - a science that requires deeply controlled concentration and observation -an attitude I could appreciate, for it was identical to the procedures we had instituted at the laboratory in our tests. Distractions lead to a false outcome both in the lab and on Ananti, if the conditions are not set up perfectly.
I knew that I would encounter the Brahmin tonight. He would find me and give me the spiritual guidance that my mother and father would consistently fail to provide as they poured so much effort into their religious celebrations. They were devout people in their own way, but they couldn’t answer most questions regarding our faith and they never really bothered to ask them either. As I turned the corner, the white bags that were the payload of my small pickup truck shifted. I envisioned the moment that I would upend their contents in front of the Brahmin. My face automatically adopted the accusatory expression in resonance to the mental projection of myself as I demanded answers to the questions that fueled our worship and that the Brahmin presumed to answer.