I don’t like Shivratri.
Up until now, I had no reason to like or dislike the festival. In fact, I would have tended towards liking it, because I got a mid-week holiday on its account. What’s not to like?
And it was a nice day too! Many offices were working and the kids’ daycare was open (school was closed, of course) so I packed off the better half and the kids by 9 a.m. and had the day to myself. We were having guests for dinner, so I was worried that if the cook didn’t turn up (she hasn’t been well) I might have to spend the afternoon cooking (sigh) but she did turn up, so I was spared even that effort. Consequently, I spent a relaxed day browsing the net and reading a magazine.
Around 6 p.m. the temple started up. The temple is diagonally across the road from us, altogether maybe two houses removed. We can see its fairy-light-bedecked outline clearly from our bedroom. Temples have always been anathema to Amit. He eyes them not just with suspicion, but with positive antagonism. I’m a little more tolerant. Temples, I believe, have their place in society, and if they don’t trouble me, I am not troubled by them. But last night, Amit’s mistrust was completely and thoroughly vindicated.
All day, cars had been lining up on the roads outside our home, as people went to the temple. That didn’t trouble me. When the noise started up at 6 p.m., it still didn’t trouble me. Evenings are permitted to be a little noisy – there’s traffic noise to contend with already; temples and barking dogs go unnoticed in the din. And I was too busy getting the children fed and watered, waiting for the guests, getting them settled, putting the kids to bed, and organizing dinner (reheating everything and making rice) to bother about a little background noise.
Our guests left after 10, so it was well past 11 before I got everything sorted and was ready for bed. This didn’t trouble me either. I normally find it difficult to stay awake past 10 p.m. and I jealously guard my early bed-time practice; generally interruptions at bed-time are dealt with curtly. I need my sleep – all seven hours of it. But if friends (or, as in this case, family) come over for dinner, then I don’t mind how late it gets. 11.30 was not very late, anyway. The trouble was, the damn temple was still blasting away. Its loudspeakers only seemed to have got louder as ambient sound died down and people went to bed and turned out the lights. It was loud enough to either scare away or drown out the barking dogs – and that’s saying a lot.
I was tired, so I went to sleep anyway. It was a troubled sleep though, punctuated by the insistent “namo-namo” pounding against my eardrums. Around 3 a.m. I woke with a start. Something different was happening. The chant had changed from droning male voices to frenzied female shrieking. The frequency and decibel level climbed until I thought either the glass windows or my eardrums (or both) would shatter. Then all was silent. “Good riddance; it’s over,” I thought to myself and tried to go back to sleep.
But it was not to be. After a brief spell of silence, the “namo-namo” rubbish started up where it had left off. And this time, it went on straight until 5 a.m. I got up eventually to close the doors and windows in the hope of sound-proofing the room, but a thin sheet of glass is no match for a determined loudspeaker so we continued to be bombarded by the wretched “namo-namo” until 5 a.m. when, just as the chanting stopped, the alarm went off, notifying me that it was time to get up.
What kind of productivity can I achieve on three hours of sleep?
If there must be a Shivratri, then the holiday should be not on the day of the festival, but the day after, so that us poor souls who don’t really give a damn about it have a chance to catch up on sleep. Better still, the festival should, in my opinion, be banned, and anyone using a loudspeaker past 10 p.m. should be rounded up and thrown into the non-existent dog pound along with the yowling street dogs. One night spent sharing a cage might teach them the joy of being forced to listen to someone else singing loud enough to keep you awake all night.