Getting ready for the Dussera parade

Dussera, and Drinking: Oct. 21st
Today is Dussera, a very popular holiday in Southern India, and a special event in Mysore, our neighboring town to the south. Dussera is a festival that commemorates the event in the Ramayana when Rama kills the demon-king Ravanna, thereby rescuing Sita, his beloved, from her imprisonment by the multiheaded Ravanna.
The major element of ceremony in nearby Mysore is the elephant parade. Kind of like the Rose Bowl equivalent, although here the floats don’t float. A short description of Mysore’s Dussera festival excerpted from K. Raghunandan and Dinesh Venkatesh’s web page:
"During the reign of the Wodeyars of Mysore, the Dussera parade used to begin in the evening, with Maharaja‘s (king’s) whole army (consisting of cavalry, music band, elephants, camels and traditional carriages, etc.). It also included the distinguished personnel of the palace - Vidwans, wrestlers, dancers and others. To add to the color and splendor were the state police, the army, navy and Air wings of the National Cadet Corps, Scouts and regiments of constabulary. The armed units carried the cannon, rifle and horse drawn carriages. Many of these were made of gold/silver and added to the splendor.

The Maharaja himself sat in a golden throne (Ambari) with his uncle sitting behind him and the most majestic elephant (pattada aane) would carry them. Also in the parade were the royal horse (pattada Kudure) and special dancing horse. The persons participating in the parade would assemble in the palace grounds by 2 pm in the afternoon. The Maharaja would perform the puja and then the units would roll out of the palace and march towards the Banni Mantap.

The parade route was about 5 miles long and after terminating in Banni Mantap we rested for a while. The Maharaja would perform puja to the Banni tree, carry a branch of this tree home. After the puja there used to be a torch light parade in Banni Mantap grounds. This parade was unique in that the Maharaja would take salute, sitting on his special white horse. It was really a glorious occasion, which not many in the public could watch (due to the limited space in Banni Mantap). The Parade would wind its way back through the well decorated street of Sayyaji Rao road, ending in the Palace at about 9 PM.

Throughout the parade, there would be the dancers, the tablots, and the Nandi-Kamba performers, who would stop and perform at regular intervals. The general crowd watching this parade those days was put at 100,000 or more each year. Almost anyone living in Mysore those days would have relatives or friends staying with them to watch the parade. The last Dasara parade with the Maharaja on the golden throne (Ambaari) was in 1969-70. After that the prince’s privy purse bill came in and the whole Dussera festivity came under cloud. Not too much later, the Maharaja passed away.

For those who have not seen the parade in the 60s, it may not be a disappointment at all. It is because of the comparison that things look a bit run-down. Even now many do go to Mysore for the Dussera and it continues to be the traditional festival when all the houses still have Bombe Habba.Young girls (and boys!) line up their dolls as a display in their homes and invite their friends over. There will be an Aarathi for the Bombe (dolls) and prasaada (some snack) is certainly distributed. On the Thursday of Dussera is Saraswathi puja, when all the students put in a few of their books and worship them as Saraswathi - the goddess of learning. On Mahanavami day is Ayudha puja when all the cutting implements, vehicles etc., get a wash and are worshipped. It is nice to see almost all cars, buses wearing garlands and kum-kum. The younger ones do the same puja on their bicycles, tricycles."

In Bangalore, the Ayudha puja is most visible by the display of banana leaves, banana stalks, and everything else bananas. Buses come driving down the road with six to eight foot stalks of banana leaves roped to their fronts. Boys come on their bicycles with small three-foot banana leaves symmetrically arranged about their handlebars. Storefronts compete for the hugest banana stalk displays. If you can translate Christmas trees into banana leaves you can get an idea of the enthusiasm and joy.
Of course the other part of Ayudha puja is worship of your tools, not just you cars and scooters. I walked into one of our offices to see little red dots of kum-kum(*) on the foreheads of all the monitors, and marigolds on top, garlanding the MacOS’ visible personality. Sanjay, upon visiting the tableau remarked that there appeared to be "a dash of color in the office today".
The other part of Dussera is liquor. Liquor in India is viewed in a manner similar to how Victorians viewed sex. As such, only coarse people drink liquor, and then only in private. Dussera, however, is ultimately a festival about war, the victories of war, and the personality of warriors and warrior castes. Consequently the drinking of liquor, though not encouraged, is tolerated during Dussera.
Some experiences and stories illustrate India’s attitudes towards alcohol.
Sanjay had a friend, Prem, who had a very clever and funny servant, named Dinesh. Prem did not treat Dinesh with the condescending attitude given by many Indian "men", but treated him with kindness and respect. One day a guest, a young Army colonel came to visit. The colonel, being a typical arrogant Indian officer treated Dinesh with the typical humiliating "Boy, get me some whiskey - double-quick". A half-hour later, the officer’s father came visiting, and Dinesh noted the officer quietly put the whiskey down, and slid it behind his chair leg, out of sight of his father. Army officer and father then went on a tour of the house. Prem and Dinesh saw the opportunity for revenge; Prem quietly said "Tray Dinesh". Dinesh caught on; he immediately grabbed a tray, put the whiskey glass on it, and in the most servile manner he could muster followed the officer and his father, with a plaintive "Aap kya whiskey, sahib?" (Your whiskey sir?).
Jude when asked what he thought the secret was to a happy marriage told me it was "never to drink, sir". Once when I got a rather nasty cold, he asked Sue if that meant she was now going to get me drunk. He had somehow heard that Americans drink brandy when they get a cold. We had similar confusion with Mercy our cook. She made mushroom soup for us from one of Sue’s recipes. It called for a tablespoon of port or sherry. She was horrified that we would put liquor in our food. Eventually she was persuaded to do so by Sue. Later, on tasting the soup, I remarked that it seemed a bit tart. It turned out she had put in red-wine vinegar instead of sherry.
Of course the fact that we are Americans means that our behavior is tolerated with respect to liquor. My good friend Sanjay Aggarwal, a closet drinker, was surprised that we had drunk whiskey with his father in law. Sanjay would not even let his father-in-law see his liquor cabinet. (As I recall Sanjay’s father enjoyed getting rather drunk with us - My reply to his slurred and happy "Everything goes with whishkey", was "including more whiskey, uncle")
Americans come over to Bangalore, and are informed by native tourist guides that Bangalore is the most cosmopolitan town in India, since it has so many pubs. Janet, our HR person thought she would "bond with the natives", and so asked my engineers what pubs they liked, and what were their favorite drinks. The ensuing silence did not clue her in to her mistake - she thought they hadn’t understood her question, so she asked again, in a more light-hearted fashion. Eventually, I took her to the most up-scale bar in Bangalore, the NASA pub, modeled to look like the inside of a spaceship. Inside were four or five seedy, dissolute males drinking "Scotch Whiskey". After this sobering experience Janet admitted that she finally "got it".
In America, my engineers view our ability to get drunk or even mildly inebriated as stunning evidence of our moral decline. Sneha, our young and impressionable engineer, was astonished when I had 3 glasses of beer at a beer-bash in Apple’s Friday afternoon rollout of some products. "You’re not going to really drink that stuff are you?"
The consequence of the immorality of liquor is that India has poor quality in its drinks. Imports are strictly discouraged. Instead a small, highly taxed, native industry has sprung up creating that unique concoction "Indian-made foreign liquor". It is nasty stuff(**), but as my college friend said, "It’ll get you there". As evidence of the liberalization and westernization of India, there is now a fledgling winemaker, Grover’s wineyards. I was surprised at a party when I saw one of the guests drinking red wine. I was told it was Grover’s red, and was quite palatable if you let it air for 6 to 8 hours, and it is!
* Kum-kum is the red vermilion that is placed on the forehead of Indian females. It is also liberally applied to anyone else who desires sacred annointment including males, dogs, cows, etc.
** Beer is routinely spiked with glycerin to increase potency. Glycerin, my organic chemistry friends tell me, is an alcohol.