The invitation came from Sharona, Chief Officer of Vibe, at Soul and Surf Resort in Varkala, India, during breakfast:
“In case you’re interested… there’ll be a temple festival going on this afternoon. There’ll be drums… and elephants… and, um, drums….”
Who doesn’t love a festival, and elephants, and DRUMS?! And Noah was pretty sure there would be cotton candy and balloons as well, maybe.
There were drums, as promised, and festive overhead banners lining the streets, and men with immense colorful pompom tower objects, decorated with swastika-like symbols (sort of) attached to chairs (sort of) that they had hoisted on to their shoulders and were twirling about as they walked.
Turns out, Hitler was a great appropriator of ancient iconic symbols, and I could have saved myself a few moments of “WTHeck?!” if I’d noticed the symbols on the twirly-gigs were “backwards” from those with which I was uncomfortably familiar.
On the other hand, simply taking it all in as presented to my Western sensibilities made for a lovely, mind-expanding afternoon of “tourist” with a captial “T.”
Gotcha… Think: the Santa Claus parade at Christmas.
… with hopes, and realities, and frustrations, and disappointments, and dreams, and purses, all tucked up right where you know where to find them without looking.
… and people always enjoy a hot oily treat with their festivities, especially if accompanied by a bell announcing the possibility, preferably half a block in advance to give you a chance to negotiate with the powers that be for why it’s a great opportunity and to scrounge around for loose change.
I found myself wishing I was a talent scout right then.
The floats were truly impressive with myth-enacting animatronics that would have put the best of 5th Avenue windows at Christmas to shame.
But what was most interesting was that the advertising opportunity was not lost. According to literally everyone we talked to on the subject (granted, a limited set given the ~1.4 billion people who could conceivably hold an opinion), every parent in India wants–and believes–their child to have a future as an engineer.
Thank goodness, there are moments where, expectations for their glorious futures notwithstanding, kids are allowed to just be kids.
Again, I found myself wishing I had done some reading around who, from a Hindu perspective, might have been slaying whom, and for what reason.
However, what I did learn, real time, is that no matter what you might have missed from an academic point of view…
… you can always read the faces of the crowd to tell you more than half of what you need to know.
For example, as measured by the whites of their eyes, this float hit its mark as a religious morality tale: the little guy behind Grandma was clearly inspired to pay closer attention next time in Sunday School.
It was a hot, humid, beautiful, exotic, and altogether human experience.
I came face-to-face with India’s very own Rufio. (I think I actually heard him crow.)
… and Peter Pan himself.
And yes, there were elephants.
For me, it was like spotting multiple Santas, each one completely singular in their own right, yet each one perfectly legitimate as representative of the uber concept, at the end of the parade: exciting, and a little weird.
In many ways, they will serve as a fitting reminder for me of my experience in India:
They were glorious, and humbling…
… and a challenge to my sensibilities as to how things “should” (or “should not”) be.
Come to think of it, India’s not that much different than Canada or the US in that way. No matter where you go, there you are, along with your particular perspective on “how things should go.” Just like American Express, you can’t leave home without it. International travel just gives you a shortcut to encountering it.
For some, however, those “preferences” are refreshingly simple to manage without stress:
Do you want the green elephant tooter or the blue one?