‘What the hell is going on here?’
We were shocked and horrified when we came across the bizarre scene that we were not prepared for.
This was in Seville, Spain; and we had reached there during the Holy week – a week between Palm Sunday and Easter.
I had known about Seville from the Bollywood movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Bollywood heartthrob Hrithik Roshan and his friends had enjoyed a Flamenco dance in a Senorita song.
But we were not prepared for a rally, where men – clad in head to toe white long robes – were walking wearing familiar white cone hoods that covered their faces.
And that looked exactly like a Ku Klux Klan rally.
It did not take much time for us to realize they were Catholic adherents making penitence for the past year’s sins. This is one of the practices that has been popular since Spanish Inquisition was in full swing, for sinners to atone for their sins. They don cone-shaped hats and opt for self-flagellation in public.
I immediately messaged my brother with a rally picture.
‘Were KKK affiliated with the Roman Catholic?‘
Within minutes, I received his message.
‘WHAT? No. KKK were hostile towards Catholics too – very likely early Klan members saw this ritual in the South and copied the style of the robe for visual effect. They probably wanted to make the costume look like a ghost.’
His answer made sense to me. We laughed at our own ignorance and continued watching the spectacular procession of pasos, floats of lifelike wooden sculptures and huge statues representing various images from the Passion of Jesus Christ.
In the afternoon, we decided to stroll in Barrio Santa Cruz and visit Sevilla Cathedral, which is the largest Gothic church in the world.
‘It took about a hundred years to build this church,’ I heard a tour guide saying so.
We then walked to Plaza de Espana, a massive building built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929, known for its sheer scale and grandeur. Apparently, this was built to show off Spain’s accomplishment in industry and architecture. And one cannot miss 48 small pavilions, each dedicated to a province of Spain and decorated in intricately illustrated ceramic tiles.
But the best of Seville was yet to come.
Gabriela- a middle-age woman with voluptuous frame, heavy eye-make up and a broad smile – had managed to get everyone’s attention in a small local bar in the night.
‘I grew up dreaming to become a Flamenco dancer, and that’s what I was all my life,’ she said raising the glass. And she shouted , “Flamenco!”
We shouted the same.
She continued in her loud voice, ‘Playing the guitar, singing and dancing. When I started there was no music, only singing and clapping of hands. Now we have started including guitars.’
She abruptly changed the topic and announced,
‘You are lucky, you are in Sevilla in April. Go for Bullfights! We have daily bullfights for two weeks in our 14,000-seat bullring. Go for it.’
She then looked at me and made a snide remark, ‘It is not for faint-heart people. Like you!‘
I smiled and thought, ‘One cultural shock a day is all I can handle.‘
But Gabriela made us go for a late-night Flamenco dance performance in another bar. The bar owner did not allow us to use our phone; and in many ways, that was great as we could truly enjoy the essence of the Flamenco dance with no distraction.
It was past mid-night after the show ended. And as we walked back to our hotel, we started tapping our feet, clapping and dancing in the street. After all we were in Seville – flamboyant Sevilla – and we were dancing and laughing remembering how shocked we were in the morning.
Seville – O Seville – the city will remain special because it taught me a great lesson of my life, which is
– ‘Never judge any culture without knowing the whole story’.
We think we know, or we understand, but the reality is we don’t.
And this is why cultural shock is good every now and then. As George Santayana rightly said,
‘There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice and it fosters humor.