Karatala cymbals clash and tambourines jingle to the recurring beat of the mrdanga drums. Robes and saris dance energetically to clapping hands. And fingers focus on chains of beads, counting the mantras as they chant
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare”
They move in single file as their leader darts out from side to side handing out leaflets. Today their traditional skirts and dhotis are partly obscured by more practical winter-wear with puffer jackets, football scarves and an electric-blue EVERLAST hoody.
“Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”
They stop suddenly on their spiritual journey to the temple. Bewildered tourists and locals gather where the Hare Krishnas have turned to form a blockade. The chanting and dancing continues but their focus has shifted to their target – London’s Oxford Street McDonalds.
Cameras and iPhones emerge to capture the scene as the meditative chanting transcends the chaos of the black cabs, double-deckers and rickshaws on the street. I breathe in traces of woody incense. It masks the stale cigarette smoke that usually suffocates the air, and I shuffle past their protest.
Continuing up Oxford Street, and turning left into Tottenham Court Road, I provide a tourist with directions to the British Museum – a regular community service I perform. Unlike Oxford Street, with its high-street chain stores typical of most European cities, Tottenham Court Road is conveniently divided into two shopping needs – electrical at one end and furniture at the other. Clearly a street designed by a man.
On my way home I stop in at a Pret A Manger for a hot chocolate; after 18 months of ‘research’ it’s London’s best hot chocolate on the high street. Hugging the takeaway cup, the heat warms my hands and I sip the smooth chocolaty-sweetness. I grab a window seat and clear the packets, wrappers, films, sleeves, containers and cardboard coffee cup holders, into a pile of sticky, rubbishy mess. Wiping my hands, my attention is drawn to the protest outside.
The masked protestors gather with placards and flyers. This internet-group called “Anonymous” holds weekly demonstrations here outside the Dianetics and Scientology Life Improvement Centre. Checked bandannas and t-shirts are used as makeshift face coverings but most wear the Guy Fawkes mask. The masks are a reference to the British rebel and the film “V for Vendetta” depicting an antigovernment movement. A protestor yells his taunt through a megaphone
“Why is ya shop so emp-ty”
The protestors erupt in laughter. On the other side of the road the undeterred scientologist ushers people inside for “FREE PERSONALITY AND IQ TESTING”. He hands out business cards to avoidant shoppers.
“Rip it up, rip it up”
A passerby eagerly obliges, tearing up the card and throwing the pieces into the air. The protestors erupt in cheers. I exit the coffee shop bracing myself to cross at the lights – a direct path between the scientologists and the protestors. As I pass a scientologist hands me a card. I snatch the card and shove it in my handbag. The protestors jeer and the scientologist shakes his head.