Thursday, 13 October 2011

A Kenyan Dussehra

Early in the morning on Dussehra day,a friend of mine from Dar Es Salaam days,now a long time resident of Nairobi,called me up to wish me.She told me that Dussehra is celebrated in a big way at one of the huge temples in Nairobi and urged us to take the kids there.I demurred,since as children in India we had always heard horror stories of how a half burnt effigy of Ravan invariably topples towards the crowd resulting in chaos and a stampede!So I had never seen one being burnt nor had the children.In fact,all my previous memories of Dussehra are centred around studies!October is the time we have the terminal(half yearly)exams in most Indian schools and they literally terminate the parents and children,what with the vast portions and the stress they generate!
But she managed to convince me and evening found us on our way to the temple.Even though we went quite early the temple parking was chok full and a steady stream of people were making their way behind the temple where all the action was.The Asian FM radio channel was actually covering the event live for their listeners!
Then we saw a huge,extremely well made effigy of Ravan in the middle of the lush green,well manicured lawn.A huge circle around it had been cordoned off putting to rest my fears of a burning Ravan avenging us Ram Bhakts by falling on us!The atmosphere was truly carnival like and reminded me of a village mela(fair)albeit a sophisticated one!There were stalls all around the place selling everything from bhel and paani puri to chole and Kacchi dabeli!Scores of people were milling around, most having already started on the chaat and steadily working their way through all the tempting fare!
There were merry go round rides for the children,a toy stall was doing a brisk trade,mehendi artists were busy decorating hands and the queue for nail art was so long that they ran out of nail paint before my daughter's turn came,much to her disappointment!A troupe of monkeys passed by,led by Hanuman complete with their tails hanging behind them,reminding me of Ramanand Sagar's Ramayana,in the Doordarshan era.How avidly we used to watch it!
We met one of our neighbours and he offered us hot,crisp,saffron coloured(and saffron flavoured)jalebi.It was delicious but my seven year old son was truly puzzled to find the family there.When I asked him why he was surprised,he answered that they are Kenyans so why were they celebrating Dussehra?Then I had to explain to him that one might be a Kenyan by birth,the last three generations might have lived in Kenya with most of them never having visited India,but being of Indian origin,they will always celebrate all the Indian festivals in a big way!The British brought Indians out of India to work on laying  the railway line in East Africa but they could not take India out of them!
As dusk turned to dark,the Ravan was set afire and blazed magnificently across the Kenyan horizon.Simultaneously,beautiful fireworks lit the sky!We were a long way from India and even further from Sri Lanka where the original story took place but I don't think I have ever felt closer to my roots, surrounded by Indians who have never even seen India,recreating an epic!Hats off to a Kenyan Dussehra!!

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