Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Hare Krishna and the Houses of Parliament
"Who're those people???"
"Aw...Hari Krishn-uh punks."
You say "The English" during a word association game, and you're likely to hear one of two phrases: "stiff upper lip" and "prop-ah". The Parliament Square in London, with the Victoria Station, St. Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben, the Winston Churchill Museum, and Westminster Bridge might as well embody the two. It also has this rather surreal appearance of a life-size (correction: larger-than-life-size) Tourist Attractions exhibition.
On the 31st of December 2005, three of my friends and I decided to go watch the fireworks over the Westminster Bridge, in the Thames. Our plan was to get there by 9:00, so we'd find ourselves nice spots by the side of the bridge. But all of us being Indian (and therefore, devoid - except in my case - of a sense of time, and a biological clock - I'm no exception here - that frequently announces meal times), we decided to have some Chinese food before getting there. Mistake.
When we finally got out of the Embarkment tube station, there were police cordons everywhere, and we could not get on to the bridge. All of us were drawn, however, to the very Indian sound of the dhol (the Indian drum, with its unique beats). So were a couple behind us, and the woman went "Whah's thah? Who're those people???" to which the man said "Aw...Hari Krish-nuh punks!" and we four all grinned at each other. Then we followed the sound to its source. Four white men, some of them tonsured except for a tuft of hair (like some Indian temple priests), and wearing Indian traditional clothes - dhotis and veshtis - were singing "Hari Krish-nuh, Hari Krish-nuh, Krishni Krish-nuh, Hari, Hari..."
We began to dance in our little corner (this was suggested by one of my friends, a girl called Bhakti, who's usually even higher on life than she is on alcohol), and the next thing we knew, two of the "Hari Krish-nuh punks" had grabbed us by the arm and drawn us into a circle. Out of nowhere, the millions of Asians in London had joined us and we were a fifty-strong crowd dancing the bhangra in the Parliament Square, as Hari Krish-nuh soon got corrected to Hare Krishna. The Big Ben showed 11:10 p.m., and the cops were getting rather nervous. Some of us waved at them and finally, a few began to crack smiles. All around us, white and golden-brown buildings with their Victorian architecture stood austerely staring at the punks dancing in the middle of the Parliament Square. And the incongruity of it all, dancing in wild circles in the space between the disapproving looks of the British Houses of Parliament, and Winston Churchill, will always be a story for the grandkids.
My grandma never tires of telling us all how she and my grandfather, an Accountant General, were present at the hoisting of the Indian flag on 15th August, 1947. And all through the events of the night, which included two drunk screaming women being bundled into straitjackets and carried away by the police - as a cop said sardonically "there's something you don't see every day of the year!" - I could only think of the face she would pull when I told her "yeah, whatever, Patti, you never danced to Hare Krishna in front of the British Houses of Parliament!"