It is frightening to see how educated and liberal people -even among my own family and friends circle- passionately butcher any argument that even remotely question their beliefs.

A natives tug-of-heart regarding the famed Thrissur Pooram
Blog Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 19:12

I was just clearing out the almirah as part of  packing-up for the return journey to my native Thrissur in Kerala when Amma called.

Without indulging in customary pleasantries, she hurriedly informs me that the Thrissur Pooram kodiyettam (flag-hoisting ceremony held a week prior to the festival) would not have its customary fireworks display this year in solidarity with the Puttingal temple tragedy in Paravur (Kollam). The main Pooram however –she sounds excited- would not be affected.

As the train trudges into the Kannur station, daily commuters rush into the reserved spaces. As if to ease the awkward silence that sets in such a scenario, they try and strike up a conversation: “Did you hear about the fire in the Paravur temple? You think it’d affect the Thrissur Pooram…will it?” The non-Malayalis in the coach look away utterly disinterested.

From the time I step into my home in Thrissur, visuals of Kollam tragedy pour in from every news channel. Around 113 people had died and scores injured in a firework display gone awry at the Puttingal temple in Kollam. News about requisite permission not being granted for the firework display start to come in followed by discussions on the lack of safety standards and the actual need for having a firework display at temple festivals.

Various media outlets then naturally latch onto the feasibility of conducting the firework display at the famed Thrissur Pooram due to take place in a few days. For those who came in late, it is the largest annual temple festival extravaganza in Kerala.

All hell breaks loose when the Kerala High Court bans temple fireworks in view of what happened at Kollam. Preparations go on with a vengeance to make the Pooram even grander and mightier than it already is.

Memes and trolls circulate on social media and WhatsApp groups in support of the festival. A few regional news channels that run stories and campaigns supporting the High Court directive draw severe criticism. Voices of reason get drowned amidst the roar of the masses who ask the media to simply ‘go back’ to wherever they came from. In a matter of hours, anti-media posters are erected at various places in and around the venue with fierce sloganeering against journalists assigned to cover the festival.

The progressive Malayalis gathered there term the media as ‘presstitutes’…all because they questioned traditions and demanded answers. Any attempt at reasoning is met with words like identity, culture and tradition. Reading through a TV reporter’s recounting of the horror at being the recipient of mob fury is disheartening. Facebook posts and online reports prove even more disturbing.

“If you are a Thrissurite, how can you not support Pooram? We grew up watching Pooram… we just cannot not let it happen,” was what was spoken in its defence. 

Growing up in the cultural capital of Kerala was not difficult. But now, surviving is. Never have I seen extreme polarization at such close quarters. It is frightening to see how educated and liberal people -even among my own family and friends circle- passionately butcher any argument that even remotely question their beliefs.  

The dilemma is clear in itself: Having grown up proudly showing off Pooram as an asset to friends from other places, am I now bound forever to protect every aspect of the Pooram, even the ones I disagree with...beyond the voice of reason?

 

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