11 November, 2010

Deepavali and Life After Death

As Singapore comprises four major religious/ethnic groups, the yearly holiday calendar exemplifies true Singaporean equality by highlighting festivals and holy days from the Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist faiths.

About a month before the actual holiday, Little India was outfitted with several kilometers of lights in preparation for Deepavali, Hindu New Year.  As it is known as the Festival of Lights, Serangoon and Race Course Roads were fittingly lined with colorful light arches as far as the eye could see.

Even though MH was out of town, I dragged myself out alone on the eve of Deepavali as I didn't want to miss out on this interesting cultural display.  After reviewing several different bus routes, I settled on the 48.  My bus stop is the first stop the bus makes as it comes out of the terminal, so I always get a seat, and I get to see the ebb and flow of a bus route from the very beginning.

I put on an episode of This American Life to pass the time.  It was called 'Life After Death'.  As I sat listening to the story of a kid who was killed by lightning and of his friend's guilt for thinking he had summoned the deadly storm, the bus filled up around me.  Most of the riders were Indian, people from all walks of life heading to the festivities to celebrate.  Traffic was thick.

The podcast moved on to tell of a young man who struck a girl with his car, killing her.  He was not at fault, yet that seemed only to advance his guilt.  The bus was packed now.  I stared into the traffic, deep in a life and death reverie.  The Chinese woman in front of me held a linen handkerchief over her mouth and leaned into the window.  The bus did smell a little ripe.  However, as soon as the Indian man sitting next to her got up, she put her hanky away.  Maybe the equality only runs calendar deep.

An hour by myself on the crowded bus listening to stories about death left me feeling less than upbeat.  The crowd and heat I faced on exiting the bus did nothing to improve my mood.  The crush of people, Indian men to be more specific, was spectacular.  I stuck out, well, like a white girl in a sea of dark men. Fighting my way down a side street drove away all intentions I had of using my tripod.  At one point I was clotheslined by a guy who was attempting to make passing room for a woman with a stroller.  I sighed inwardly and waited with resigned patience, wondering how it was I had come to be pressed tightly against three Indian men, the door of a stalled car, and a rack of plaid shirts. Cultural enrichment, was it?  The stroller finally passed, rolling over my foot, followed by the woman who trod likewise on the same foot.

I finally made it to the Campbell Lane street bazaar, took a deep breath, and stepped into the current.  Stopping for pictures was out of the question.  'Life After Death' still on the brain, I pictured very vividly how easily this many people could turn into a deadly stampede.  I pushed away those thoughts and let myself be carried along, concentrating instead on the vivid colors and cacophony of lanterns, lights, flowers, scarves, beads and baubles.  I have to admit that the vibrant, eye-popping colors and masses of decorations cheered me up a little.

That said, I was not really in the mood to hang around.  Even though I was starving and would have loved some Indian food, I just had to get out.  I escaped the bazaar and walked a couple more side streets as purposefully as I could before hitting the bus stop.  Traffic was better on the way home.  I opted for music over another gloomy Ira Glass narrative.  Happy Deepavali.