An Army of Saraswatis

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The other day, I made my way to a little neighbourhood of idol sculptors in south Kolkata, near Kalighat temple. It's tiny compared to the much-photographed Kumartuli. All along the lane were unfinished Saraswati idols because it's the upcoming puja in the Hindu calendar. I remembered the lane when I read about Darwin's theory of evolution being pronounced "scientifically wrong" by former police commissioner of Mumbai and current minister of state for human resource development. Seeing the long row of idols in my mind's eye, I imagined an army of Saraswatis taking to the streets and thumping the bejesus out of 'intellects' like Singh with the business end of the veena. Or maybe twanging so loudly that mortal neurons get scrambled and eardrums burst. 


Maybe the Saraswati battalion could also lavish a little attention to Singh's colleagues, like Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar ("If they [women] want freedom, why don't they just roam around naked?") and the people changing school syllabi to rewrite history. Although the BJP and RSS are undeniably special, they're not the only ones saying rubbish. Our public life seems to be teeming with fools who feel no qualms at spouting utter nonsense. Follow the news and it's like being the one sober person at a particularly drunken party. 

The right wing (or at least those who deign to flood my phone with 'educational' missives) is noticeably unenthusiastic about Saraswati. This is not surprising. Saraswati has been a thorn in patriarchal Hinduism's side. In her stories, she challenges Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in different ways. She seems to be constantly working to pull the rug out from under the male gods and with each successful ploy, she establishes for herself distance and solitude. Not surprising then that the conservative, chauvinist bunch isn't falling over itself to worship her. If anyone in the Hindutva brigade genuinely believes in Saraswati, they should be very afraid because this is not a goddess with much of a track record for forgiveness and tolerating stupidity. She's constantly rebelling against the kind of male-dominated status quo that the conservative right wing gazes at with hearts in their eyes.  

Imagine street after street lined with these clay idols, which suddenly come to life and calmly, relentlessly close around our idiotic 'leaders' and their foot soldiers. Steady, silent steps; a delicate smile that might be a smirk; strong hands with fingers calloused by hours of veena-playing; unblinking eyes, and perhaps the soft hum of a harmony that's sweetly menacing. Not a word from she who was once known as the goddess of speech because what's the point of dialogue with someone who won't hear and will not listen? Just one step and another, accompanied by a bevy of hostile, honking hansa (band name, anyone? you're welcome). 

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It's not just our politicians though. Line up the teachers who stifle curiosity, the tuition coaches who make children into automatons and everyone responsible for making students think death is the fitting response to a low score. Drag out all those who have turned our universities into arenas for thuggery. Show her the geniuses who think the humanities are subjects for fools, that philosophy is a waste, and analysis is unnecessary. Single out the ones who ridicule good taste and mock the idea of having standards. Point out those who judge a work by what it cost and what it earned. Let her hear how we flatter. Let her see how we celebrate mediocrity. 

How much of what passes for culture in today's India would get Saraswati's stamp of approval? What of our present-day creativity is worth preserving so that it transitions from being a thing of the present to an inheritance in the future?    

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Once upon a time, for reasons no one recorded in myth or history, Saraswati the goddess slipped out of the spotlight. Tomorrow is Saraswati Puja. Say a prayer that she may reappear and once again rebel.