Tuesday, January 29, 2008
The Floating Lord
We enter through the gate opposite Leo Coffee, insignificant in the surge of arms, legs and braided hair that whip the face if one gets too close. I stumble through the small opening in the wall and all I can see are people. Pressed against one another, buying and selling packets of puffed rice, scolding children, acting truant, laughing, chatting, glaring and protesting. I frequently look up in to the grape black night sky for respite before training my eyes on the moving swirl of humanity. We edge close to the wall, my mother holding my hand as though I am 7 and not 27. But I do not resent this, I am grateful for her fingers entwined around mine, aware that if I let go I might get swallowed by a mouth that might spit me out in some unrecognizable form. We reach the wall and look down the steps that lead to the edge of the tank. Every square inch is occupied by a sari, dhoti, paavadai or trouser clad bottom. Large, small, sagging and compact. Callipygous.
We crane our necks and look around the tank and spot an unoccupied section of steps. It is not too far a away and we are soon over the wall, pulling articles of clothing that have ridden up back in to place. Carefully we make our way to the last and broadest step and begin the walk around the tank. Along the way, female hands steady us and voices shout out warnings ‘Be careful’. Another voice, male and angry shouts out ‘Make way’! We look over our shoulders. A long line of men pulling a thick rope march towards us. Behind them, their Lord slowly bobs up and down on the surface of the water. He is seated majestically on a covered float that is draped with lights, flowers and bare-chested men who are singing His praises. We scuttle up the stairs and stand at an appreciative distance, letting Him pass by before we resume our journey to the vacant steps.
By the time we reach our destination, the Lord has navigated to the other side of the tank. We settle down and wait for our paths to cross again, passing the time by pointing out landmarks, catching up on street gossip and nudging each other slyly when women in particularly interesting blouses with windows, doors and skylights walk by.
The tank serves many purposes. Home to a flock of geese (ducks?) and schools of fish that fight over the puffed rice some throw. A messenger carrying people’s desires, prayers and hopes in the form of lamps set afloat on its rippling skin. A gigantic foot sauna to those who dip their feet in and disturbingly, a source of drinking water to others who greedily drink from it.
While many are there to seek the Lord’s blessings, some appear to have come for an evening out. Women’s faces scrubbed with turmeric shine resplendently and take on an other worldly glow under the lights. Some children are dressed in their best attire. Twins in identical clothes that perhaps still smell of air conditioned shops while there is more than one man who has brought out his sandal wood coloured silk kurta. Some of course haven’t bothered to dress for the occasion, like the group of children still wearing crumpled school uniforms with tattered ribbons in their hair. They cling to the striped walls like baby monkeys shouting out to one another, lost in their own make believe world.
We wait for the float to pass us by once more, and this time study Him closely. Bejeweled and loftily carrying his vel, surrounded by admirers, fish and ducks (geese?), the floating Lord meets our gaze before moving on. It is my first time theppam and I wonder whether the divinity radiates from the Lord outwards and bathes the audience or comes from within the people and shines on to him.
(probably couldn't find it, because I misspelled it :P) (callipygous:Having beautifully proportioned buttocks)