I write this to you on the 22nd of October, in the hospital on my S5, harbouring a stinking mood, and waiting for my wrist to be casted. Happy Deepavali.
Even though yours truly is having a bad day, it is to the contrary for most of the population of India as they celebrate the Festival of Lights. As you probably (do not) know, I got out of my comfort zone and backpacked across India for a month alone, occasionally sharing beds with roaches, which on hindsight seemed relatively benign compared to sleeping among poisonous centipedes outfield. But that’s a story for my son.
The story i want to share is one that reminds me of the great hospitality extended to me while I was in India. Also, I’m sharing this because Lisa has been bugging me. Get off my back, Lisa.
Nag Panchami is the Snake festival where Hindus worship the Naga, which is also called the serpent, which is also called the Naga Siren.
The festival fell on the 11th of August in 2013. That was 2 nights after I landed in Mumbai, which is also 2 nights after I found the myth of Indian parents pushing their sons and daughters to become engineers and doctors respectively, as portrayed in the movie “3 idiots”, to be true. My subject was in seat 17B, next to me in 17A, and it was a long plane ride. He is an Indian working in a bank, in financial engineering nonetheless, and wants his sons to be engineers. I know, fallacy of composition, but let’s move on.
I spent a night in Mumbai, staying at the Red Salvation Army, then on the next day took an overnight bus to Kolhapur. I reached Kolhapur on the festival day morning, where I met 2 Swiss nationals checking in at an off-the-charts overpriced hotel, and were also headed to Shirala where the festival was. We took a local bus in 20 minutes of my arrival in Kolhapur and we were off to the Nag Panchami.
The local bus ride was uneventful except for the conductor overcharging us by some 400%, and me not being able to point out what’s unique about Uniquely Singapore to my Swiss companions.
I cannot recall how long the ride took but it was long enough for my groin to feel sore due to the bumpy road and non-existent bus suspensions. It probably felt longer than it really is.
2 sore dudes and 1 happy lady(heh) alighted to loud music which were playing from trucks that were decorated from front to back with colourful ornaments, most noticeable were the garlands, which were hung around the massive speakers that were mounted on the trucks. People surrounded these mobile music stations and danced and sang along as it drove through the narrow streets of the village.
We joined in the fun a little later, and while being carried on the locals’ shoulders, we were pelted with pink powder and sprayed with water. All the while people were dancing and singing, and the speakers were blasting. It was chaotic to say the least. But it was good chaos. Our female companion took a photo of this memorable moment, which was my Facebook display picture, and is now my WhatsApp display picture. Thankfully she towered approximately a foot over us Asians to have that photo taken without obstruction.
We dodged the trucks at first after alighting and explored the other side of town. This was where we discovered a stage where a snake charmer and a king cobra were toying with each other, doing their little dance.
I should point out that the snakes are regarded as gods and are very protected. These snakes are caught in the fields surrounding this village every year for this festival, they are fed and rested well, then released back into the fields after the festival.
So back to the story. As a young adult who, like most other young adults, think that they are made of iron and are invincible, I requested to join the snake charmer on stage and was positively surprised that I was allowed to.
Later, the 3 of us were invited to the village leader’s home. As it turned out, the stage and the act were sponsored by the village leader and he was more than happy to break bread and share some stories about the village and this festival.
While we were there, we were treated like ministers, we were constantly offered traditional Indian snacks, while the village leader explained that there used to be a competition where each factions of the village would try to catch the biggest King Cobra and there would be a huge celebration in the village no matter which faction the winner belonged to. However in recent years, the spirit of the competition has dwindled, so it has become more of a tradition to capture the King Cobras rather than a contest.
We were then ushered into the other room where we found a few of the village leader’s younger family members handling a cobra. They all had metal balls.
We were given precise instructions on how to hold the cobra by its tail while the village leader charmed the snake. The most important of them all was that you had to keep as motionless as possible so you wouldn’t distract the snake away from the distraction created by the snake charmer. Which obviously isn’t easy because you know that a King Cobra can turn around in less than half a second, which is roughly the time needed to say “oh fuck!“, before it sinks it’s fangs into your forearm.
Holding a wild cobra in your hands is like holding a wild cobra in your hands. There’s no graver analogy to explain the situation.
We ended the day perched on a rooftop admiring the sights and sounds before boarding the local bus back to Kolhapur, where we enjoyed a local cuisine in a restaurant and retired to our rooms.
I couldn’t leave the next day because I made the rookie backpacking mistake of washing my clothes too late at night in the monsoon season and so they were still too wet in the morning. I spent another night in Kolhapur and planned out the next few destinations of my journey.
The Swiss left the next day, but not before giving me a raincoat which was too small for him, advising me to keep it around for the monsoon season.
Back to the matter at hand, I found out that it wasn’t a cast I was waiting for, it was a bandage. I’m very disappointed because a cast would be cool, which is just like my personality. But it doesn’t matter anymore actually because now I feel like a boxer. Stay frosty.
A page from Jonas’ journal on Nag Panchami.