Friday, November 5, 2010

Did anyone buy a book this Dhanteras?

The car manufacturers have smiles that will last a while. So too with the major manufacturers of household utility and recreational goods: refrigerators, washing machines, microwave ovens, OTGs, dishwashers, plasma and 3D television sets, DVD players, music systems, play-stations, laptops, desktops. The list goes on.
Two thousand new cars, leave alone two -wheelers have joined the congestion on the roads and will now compete for space with pedestrians, cattle, hawkers, vendors and garbage. The carbon dioxide emissions will increase and the city’s temperature will rise. Jostling for public space will lead to jangled nerves, outraged emotions and heightened tempers.
Window shopping on Dhanteras late afternoon, I peeped into some bookshops on Ashok Rajpath and Fraser Road to check if buyers included books among the many items they sought to buy. The bookshops wore deserted looks, and I was not surprised. I asked a young student who mouthed a Good Afternoon if he knew the significance of the occasion. The doubtful looks made it amply clear that I ought to swallow my next question. In Bihar, the celebration of Diwali begins two days before the actual day of celebration as Dhanteras. It is celebrated in honour of Dhanvantari, the physician of the gods. He is believed to have risen with a pot of Amrit during the samudra manthan. Connected with this legend, people buy new utensils which are placed in the place of worship. This practice has now grown in variety and has been extended to include the entire consumerist range coveted by the middle class. The pious fast throughout the day and after sunset the fast is broken with sweets, puris and other traditional delicacies.
As the evening drew out, the traffic became a nightmare. Patna was shopping: competitively, feverishly, and furiously. I decided to finish the chores of customary greetings, caught up with friends on the net and then I curled up on the lounge sofa and started to read a book: the short stories of Catherine Lim, the highly acclaimed writer from Singapore. And for the next three hours, I was at peace. It was a kind of peace that a superior engagement with the intangible can provide. Between the Amrit and the Pot as Dhanvantari’s metaphors, I had chosen Amrit.