I woke up…
…this morning with a smile on my lips as I’d been dreaming some of my childhood fantasies which were to visit certain countries… The list grew up as I became older but I never removed a country from it. It comprises Egypt (one of my earliest fascinations), Greece (oh land of myths and legends; cradle of western civilisation; the land where the Gods and the Titans and the Giants still roam), India (earliest, everlasting, permanent fascination – I will go there, surely, certainly…), US (for obscure reasons, must be the impact of the AM. Dream when I was just an impressionable young adolescent?), Japan, Ireland, amd it goes on and on…
This morning, I was back in Egypt, surprisingly not among the Pyramids, but on the Delta. I visualised myself as one of the scribes, bearing down on papyrus, the sacred truths of the Priests or simply noting down commercial records (From India, received XXX; from Mesopotamia, received YYY; from Crete, received ZZZ…)
Then I woke up. Julian Barnes was lying next to me on the bed, its pages a bit rumpled because my face had been in intimate contact with them. I swear I have straight lines running the length of my face. I have just completed the book now. Priority now shifts to Sister Carrie, and then to Lanark.
I woke up with the certainty that I will cook rice today. Don’t ask me how I come up with these ready-made thoughts because I’m as ignorant of the facts as the next person. On some days, my mind already sets out to chart my various activities even before I get up so that I have some sort of rough timetable in my head telling me…’now you are going to do this…next, you’re going to do that…’ Scary!
Mom sent me a text this morning saying that they were going to the sacred lake of Grand-Bassin today for the annual pilgrimage. My sister, as usual, wanted to go by foot with her friends, but my father did not want her to go on her own. The journey by foot is so tiring but at the same time a unique and rewarding experience. This week, thousands of Hindus will be converging towards the dormant volcanic lake for prayers to Lord Shiva. It will be the holy celebrations of Maha Shivaratree. A unique experience, not by Hindu standards, since most Hindus in India would perhaps go to pay hommage to the rivers in any case, but unique in the sense that we have transmuted one of the natural features of our island into something holy and much beyond what it actually is, which is an ancient dormant volcano that has, over the centuries, filled up with rain water and fresh water from streams to become a natural lake. A whole mythos is now attached to the discovery of the lake and its appropriation and transformation into a Hindu site of worship.
Sometimes known as Ganga Talao (the Ganges lake) or Pari Talao (or the lake of the fairies), it is now one of the best known Hindu sites of worship on the island. Traditionally, every year, for the Maha Shivaratree festival, all Hindus converge towards the lake. Usually, they prefer to walk all the distance (though now, the place has become much more accessible in terms of personal and public transport). So, from anywhere on the island, whatever be the distance, thousands set out a few days earlier to walk towards the lake, usually in large groups and carrying kanwars on their shoulders, structures made out of bamboo, beautifully decorated and adorned with the pictures and symbols of the Hindu religion. It is considered as a act of penance to go there walking and usually you don’t really feel the distance. The routes to the lake are well-known and despite the fact that the lake is situated in one of the highest, coolest and remotest parts of the island, it is quite secure to go there.
One of the things I used to enjoy while going for these pedestrian pilgrimages was the fact that you had this group feeling, the sensation of belonging to something so much larger than yourself; a sense that no one was really a stranger to you. All these people who were walking along with you on the roads – they might be strangers in normal, daily life – but during those three days – they were your companions, your brothers and sisters who were bound on the same route as you were – reaching out for a common destination. It is truly an otherworldly sensation that was renewed every year when I went there. The length of the journey scarce;y mattered. Throughout the journey, wherever you found yourself, there’d be people coming out of their houses to offer you refreshing drinks of juice or water; often fruits would be offered to mitigate our thirst and hunger, especially in the case of the smaller children. I was surprised on receiving some paracetamol last year from a lady. It made my companions laugh so much.
The strange thing is that I’ve been to this place during all the years of my life, but rarely has it not rained during one or more of these three sacred days. It is something of a mystery that it might have been a very sunny week before the event but it usually rains during the festival. Or at least, this is what I perceive. It is admittedly strange though I am not of the superstitious type…
So, the rest of my family are going there today. They usually bring back (like everyone) some of the water of the lake, to be used during prayers and so on. Some enterprising pundit went to India and gathered the water from the sacred rivers which he brought back and mingled with the waters of the lake. Thus is the Grand Bassin (or literally, ‘the big pool’ in French) transmuted, metamorphosed, translated into Ganga Talao. So, Mauritius, the little island, that lies so far from India; not so far from Africa; and very far from Europe, now boasts of a Ganges of its own. We do get Hindu tourists from Reunion Island, South Africa, Kenya and even from India, who come to offer prayers at the lake during this season. And of course, it is also a favourite tourist site.
I miss that hustle and bustle as people abandon their normal lives and become, for a week, inhabitants from another world, another dimension. Usually clad in white, going in groups, far from solemn, often laughing or chanting, the joyous mass of humanity moves forth, inexorably towards this centre of faith.
My mom says that she might go on this pilgrimage by foot with me next year.
Or I might go along with some of my uni friends, if they are still around. Most of them are out of the country now. Tomorrow, two are them are off to Australia. I must send them my best wishes before they depart.
Ok. My mind has decided that rice is on the menu. I will have to do what it says then.