Friday, October 10, 2008

Dasera at the Dentist's

Today is Dasara (or Dasera, or Dasehra), the tenth day of Navaratri, and a public holiday. Well, for everyone except Monu, obviously. And my dentist, Ramona, who brings my appointment forward to eight-thirty this morning, to free the day for festivities.

We segue straight from the Ganpati shindy into Navaratri, with barely enough time to get new candles. Navaratri’s the Festival of Joy, to celebrate the victory of Rama over Ravana, who had captured Rama’s wife, Sita. Rama’s a model of continence and piety during the separation, and attracts the admiration of all, including the monkey-god Hanuman. (Don’t go thinking you understand: nothing’s ever this simple in Hinduism, so Rama is one of the incarnations, or attavars, of Vishnu, as Sita is of Lakshmi. The legends and stories are more intertwined than the ribbons on a maypole.) Or the celebration marks the vanquishing of the wicked Mahisha by the ten-armed goddess Durga. Whichever version you favour, the cause of all the joy (and new clothes, let’s be honest), is the victory of Good over Evil, and every moment of today is considered auspicious. Not a bad day for a dental appointment, after all.

In Powai, the pandal takes forty days to build – this is serious construction, for a transient place of worship and partying – but they whisk away the last stick of bamboo scaffolding and have every last fairy-light and flower-head in place, with seconds to spare. The streets are gridlocked in the evenings, as all Mumbai brings his wife and mother-in-law in their sparkly new saris, to admire and worship. This year, the inspiration – and indeed, the builders and the materials – have been brought from Calcutta. Or Kolkata, if you want to be PC. The end result is breath-taking.

We visit several times during the preparations, and are welcomed by organisers and builders alike, all enjoining us to come back for the grand opening. Free food, stalls, music, dancing. It doesn’t take a lot of thinking about. When we visit officially, we have to join queues for security screening, segregated by gender not creed, to pass through the electronic portal into the pulsating courtyard beyond. To the right of the temple, a concert-arena is set up, where known idols of the Indian pop world will produce enough rocking decibels to crumble the fake plaster off the pretend walls, with a warm-up act of small children, singing and dancing to their loving Mums and Dads on the front row. The programme’s eclectic, and as all-embracing as Hinduism itself.

This replica of the Dakshineswar Mandir in Calcutta, dedicated to Durga, is made of expanded polystyrene on a wooden frame, and will be dismantled after today, leaving scrubby wasteland again, where shining fantasy now has its brief moment. Inside the temple, the centrepiece is a twenty-foot plaster model of Durga in the very act of defeating Mahish with his curly moustache. I’m pleased to note Ganesh gets a place at top table, too.

This morning, the whole world’s pooja’d, even the tuk-tuks. Monu’s horrified at the idea of my walking to my hospital appointment, and I’m just thinking, how dear of him, when it comes to me that he doesn’t think I shouldn’t, he thinks I couldn’t, because I am so lardy and white. I am Trex Woman. I walk anyway, to show him, and arrive in a slight glow. The heat of the morning, you understand.

As I arrive, two dental assistants are climbing on chairs, to string garlands of bells and orange flower-heads over the door. More dentists should consider a bit of pooja, I feel, basking in the festive orange glow. There’s a man already queuing, shouting into his mobile, so that all independent thought’s suspended. Ramona turns up. He snaps his phone shut, kicks his shoes off, and nips under the bells and flowers. Clearly disconcerted, Ramona comes back out of the surgery to explain. He’s pushed in: he didn’t confirm his rescheduled appointment, therefore has no appointment: “I am coming in for you, not for him! There will now be a ten minute delay!” Vodafone boy’s supine in the chair of torture, complacent, but within earshot. I’m just glad to be informed. Can you imagine it, down at your local walk-in clinic? “Mrs Gower, this baby’s swallowed a pin-cushion, so we’re fast-tracking him through A&E. We know you were here first, with your suspected sprained thumb, but we hope you understand.” There’d be a lot less chunnering, at the WRVS stall, is for sure. Information is key.

Hare Krishna, Hare Rama,” croons the radio, as the dental assistant pads about in his socks, whipping a green napkin under my chin, and lining up the medieval ironware on the trolley. Ramona’s doing a telephone consultation, even as she pings on her rubber gloves. They don’t do single-tasking, here. “Catherine, if you feel pain,” she says, “raise your left hand.” I devote my whole self to worrying about her getting my name wrong – what if “Catherine” is rhesus negative, for example, and I get a toxic transfusion, when everything goes papaya-shaped, in a bit? I forget to notice the lack of anaesthetic, until she’s flailing about with a drill. Descaling’s more of a trauma than root canal work, and I’m so tense, I hover six clenched inches above the bed under me. Ramona, meanwhile, entertains a casual visitor with idle chat. “Where’s your dupatta?” she chides, hollowing out a cavity the size of Portugal, where I used to keep my lower right sixth molar. She’s addressing a colleague who’s just sauntered along, in a snowy kurta and pyjama bottoms. He shakes his little pony-tail sadly, “No dupatta. My son already says I look like a girl....”

I’m still in shock, when she processes me through her pooja’d front door, back into the marbled stadium of a reception desk. "Don't you do anaesthetic, here?" I venture to ask, now she's not got a drill in her hand. "Only if there is pain. You didn't have pain, did you?" she says with retroactive confidence. Now you mention it, no, I didn't. Neither did Catherine. I don’t even get an “I’ve been a good girl at the dentist’s today” sticker, and I'm still shaking: Ramona only stopped twice, during the whole half-hour, for me to spit lead and blood into the basin. There’s a flower on the credit-card machine, however, which consoles me for much. “Happy Dasera!” Ramona says. I smile my new smile, and wish her the same.