The place looked festive for the celebration of the Chariot festival. There were kids prancing with brightly coloured helium filled balloons – their parents, dressed in new clothes, engrossed in bargaining with the vendors. For festivals, especially for the traditionally oriented, new clothes are mandatory. The Chariot festival transformed the place – for 3 days, the duration of the festival - every year.
I have been watching this festival every year only because I find myself in its midst, each year. The place transforms miraculously. Overnight, make-shift stalls and festoons come up. Vendors set up stalls for almost anything you can think of for a village like fair - descending on the place from apparently nowhere. So do people who throng the fair. These are people who do not live here. They are, perhaps, from nearby villages and small towns.
So happy, cheerful and carefree they look that they make the city folks and local residents look decidedly forlorn. City folks are not known to let their kids loose, the way the children who come to the fair are. I wondered if the kid with the helium balloon knew where his parents where or how he could locate them when the balloon finally bored him. Did the couple – who were furiously bargaining with the vendor for trinkets – know that their kid, if the child was theirs, was several metres away from them in a swirl of people – blissfully lost in his balloon?
As dusk set in, darkness descended sooner than usual. Power supply was cut off for the locality. The tall chariot would soon make its appearance – pulled by devotees. Since the mast of the chariots could get entangled with the overhead power lines, power was disconnected as a precautionary measure. Nevertheless, the place was soon brightly lit by Petromax lamps without causing any disruption to the festivities.
The arrival of the chariot, pulled by over 50 men, was announced with frenzied drumbeats. Shopping stopped as people rushed to see the splendidly decorated chariot. There was no sign of the boy with the balloon. But, there were so many kids – most of them looked alike. The chariot seemed to plough into the crowds as it trundled its way past to the beating of drums and blaring devotional music.
Tomorrow, the place would revert to normalcy or at least a semblance of it. Local residents would, perhaps, breathe more easily. The bursting of fire crackers had vitiated the atmosphere in the last few days. No wonder the local residents did not seem as excited at the visitors.
Each year, the main thoroughfare of the locality was converted into a makeshift fair ground. Vehicles and pedestrians alike had to wade through hordes and unfamiliar faces to get to their homes, offices or even the next road. The local residents had to contend with loud music blaring till late at night and the power supply cut off when the chariot passed by.
This is an age old festival. It raison d’etre is lost in antiquity. The inconveniences it brought was not lost on the local residents. Like each year, they would petition to the local authorities to shift the festival to a location more suitable for the convenors and the convened.