The Ringside View

My attempts at writing have always been stacked up in old diaries and scraps of yellowing paper.Time,neglect and phylum insecta however, always ensured that the gibberish i scrawled, never would see the prying gaze of an alien eye.Years later, i still scribble once in a while - this time in word documents stored in some obscure folder somewhere in the innards of my C drive.I am unearthing some of them and opening them up for the interested.To get what i call - The Ringside view.

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Location: Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Pilgrimage

‘Wake up’, dad was screaming. ‘We’ve come all the way and now don’t tell me that you want to sleep. The early morning puja is the holiest of them all. And if we’re late it’ll take hours for us to get a darshan’.

‘Five minutes, dad’, I implored. ‘Why don’t you go take a bath and I’ll be up by then’.

I coiled into a posture of comfort and hoped for time to freeze. Like in the legends of yore when anything was possible. But those were the legends of yore, not the times of today. I could hear dad sending me the precursor to the final wake up call. I half opened my eyes and stared at the whitewashed ceiling of our hotel room. The fan whirred at terminal velocity, undeterred by the overnight run.

‘Quick, quick’, dad explained. “We’re late already and this boy just does not understand’, his ire now targeted at mom, non-committal. This is the problem with temple town visits. Early morning waking up (actually make it middle of the night. It’s hardly even four and god himself will be turning over in deep slumber). But no, people just do not understand. Ablutions done, I sat there like in a drunken stupor wondering about the logic of the whole exercise. It’s not that I am an atheist. I am a believer. But a rational one at that. For me, it’s the same deity that sits there in the temple; day in, day out. So why can’t we prostrate before the lord god at a saner hour. A good refreshing night’s sleep and one might be in better spirits to meet the lord for all you know. ‘Don’t wear that sweatshirt for god sake. You’ll have to remove it anyways when you enter the sanctuary’, dad continued bellowing.

‘Why don’t you’ll carry on and leave me alone. I’ll visit the temple later in the day’, I argued hopelessly. A full moon gleamed in pristine silver. Distant strains of devotional music wafted down from the street below.

‘What time is the puja’, dad enquired to the man at the reception.

‘You’ll probably have to rush. The queue gets very long otherwise’, he proffered unwanted advice. Hair slickly combed back with a smearing of sandal paste on his forehead, he sat there fresh as a daisy. It’s four ‘o’ clock in the morning godamit. Is he nocturnal or something, I wondered.

‘We’ll leave our footwear at the West Nada.’, dad stratergized. ‘It looks like we’re late’, he continued in the same breath, stepping up his steady trot. I stumbled as I kept pace; looking around at the world that to me should be at sleep. It seemed all roads led to the abode of the lord; standing there in the distance with spires coated in gold. The temple flag fluttering in the cool Arabian breeze. Temple town folk are early risers I must admit, for every man, woman and child in the vicinity was headed in uncomplaining devotion; oiled, bathed and sandal pasted to the door of their god.

I joined the cascading crowd, my senses by now wide awake, fascinated by this intricate world at play. In the gleaming silver of the moon above, in the golden outpouring of halogen street lamps, newspaper vendors squatted by the road, sorting dailies, plastered with trade union politics and Friday matinee releases. Little shops selling everything from beaded chains and multi colored halwas scouted for customers both devout and otherwise. Devotional incantations of every wannabe tinsel town singer was streaming out loud from a hundred tape recorders in various strains of melody and non melody.

And we rushed through all this and more like busy office goers for their 8:30 express. However, not all of them seemed to be in a hurry. I noticed a few ‘cotton candy’ bearded old men (in worn out shades of saffron) sleeping by the temple door, oblivious of the rush hour traffic. “They also serve, who merely stand and wait’, said Milton. Didn’t he?

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It seemed like the inevitable had happened. Not all had slept and procrastinated like I did. The queue had made two neat circles around the main shrine. Dad gave me a look that was meant to be the silent equivalent of two tight slaps. I neatly evaded the look; asking mom instead some deep mythological question.

Minutes turned hours and daylight streaked in as the sun rose among the eastern hills. With light came the heat. I clutched onto my shirt to prevent it from sliding off my shoulder. Streams of sweat rolled down my back as though in mock recognition of all effort expended.

“How long is it bound to take”, I finally asked, tiredness over riding the sense and sensibility of such a question.

“Lord Krishna does not give an easy darshan.He tests you and only then appears before you”, dad explained. I wish he had been more quantitative in his answer.

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A hundred oil lamps burnt in unison like a stellar constellation. The temple elephant stood there in salutary obedience at the threshold of the god’s sanctuary; with lean shirtless boys atop holding beaded umbrellas like in those tourism department adverts. Cymbals clanged, drums resounded and someone blew the conch loud and clear. Amidst fervent chanting of the holy name, a sudden thrust of latent inertia propelled the queue forward. And like tributaries joining the main river, three queues merged into one in a crescendo of chaos.

I pushed and got pushed and in a melee of hands and bare backs finally found myself in the innards of the temple courtyard. Over shoulders and perspiring bodies, I could see glimpses of the main deity room. Camphor burnt, oil lamps burnt; all like in a cauldron. The queue like a meandering river bent around and then dissipated into nothingness off the main deity room.

Dad wriggled, like out of a rugby defence stronghold and handed me a few coins. “Drop it into the hundi’, he actioned. Years of burning lamps had turned the walls pitch black. A magical odour of camphor, ghee and coconut and all of a sudden I was face to face with the God. A black monolithic block of sculpture stood there pristine; a smile carved somewhere on the stone. Mirrors dispersing the holy flame to seem like a hundred. I stood there marveling the simplicity of what I had waited for, all these hours. Two seconds and a push from behind. Biff!!! It was over.

‘Did you pray hard’, dad asked when I joined him.

“Yes I did’, I replied; not wanting to divulge I had hardly muttered anything other than ‘God bless me’. Or did I even say that?

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Sitting on the temple stairs nibbling on some coconut and jaggery offering, I heard dad and mom discuss plans of coming back tomorrow for another darshan. I sat quiet, staring at the devout who still stood in long queues waiting for their two seconds in front of the open doors.

Tomorrow, much before dawn breaks, I knew all that happened today would happen again. And I from my slumber might whine and complain. But at the end of it all, I think I will end up coming like one of the multitudes. And tomorrow I shall remember to pray.

5 Comments:

Blogger as good as it gets said...

Ooooooooh! AWESOME!!! Write..write..write and someday publish all of it!

November 17, 2006 5:01 PM  
Anonymous Lalitha said...

It's pretty awesome how every remotely Mallu Hindu family will go to amazing lengths to see the God at Guruvayoor.. I can sooo understand frustration at being woken up in random hotel room at 4 in the morning :-)
You're super awesome da!

November 17, 2006 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Dad gave me a look that was meant to be the silent equivalent of two tight slaps. I neatly evaded the look; asking mom instead some deep mythological question." - hehehehe.. good one buddy!!

November 18, 2006 4:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

awesome post mate .... 2 questions for u, Did u visit temple next day ? If yes, Did you pray hard ?

- GD

January 02, 2007 6:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazingly portrayed.njoyed n loved it.. xcept for 'beaded umbrellas like in those tourism department adverts'

--Bebo

January 24, 2008 2:42 PM  

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