I stand hands folded, eyes screwed shut, a picture of piety. I stand in a temple swarming with people, with varying degrees of faith - some intense, some borrowed, some faithless. United we stand, chanting and praying to a stony God - who's opulent raiment and the mountain of offerings before him, is in stark contrast with some of his devotees within and outside the temple. A god who, though not needing, not feeling a thing, is bedecked with silks and gold, while beggars who need clothes, sit shivering outside the temple begging for alms and food.
We're praying to a hunk of stone, wherein some ignoramus saw, more like imagined he saw, the face of a god and built a temple around it. We're praying to a hunk of stone who feels nothing, but somehow we expect that hunk of stone to feel for us and turn our fates.
The irony makes me titter and the effort I put into not laughing out loud makes my shoulders tremble.
I feel my mother's slap leaving a slight itch on my back where it lands. She has noticed my insubordination, no doubt. I can feel her eyes boring into the back of my skull, trying to see past fiery, teenaged synapses in my head to decode why her capricious daughter is snickering in a place of worship.
Is it a boy?
Or someone she has seen here?
Or some abominable thing these youngsters occupy themselves with these days?
Shiva! Shiva! Shiva!
I picture her matronly face fighting off emotions as her vivid imagination paints scenario after scenario in her head. It makes me titter some more.
I open my eyes to a slit and the first thing I see is a small boy, not more than six, stealing the Prasad right from under the Pujari's bloated nose. Well, if you have a nose (and belly) that huge you would have little knowledge, or inclination to know, of what's going on beneath them. Besides, the hunk of stone has enough offerings piled up before him to last him a month. He shouldn't mind.
Oh, but theft in a temple? Where art thou, O Mighty One?!
I shift my gaze to a lady as old and as matronly as my mother. She is a globe and the sari she wears isn't long enough to drape all the way around her and still have enough to accommodate some pleats too, so her sari has no pleats. Her eyes are closed, her swollen lips muttering an incoherent shloka and her jowls are jiggling with the movement, like tiny waves on a chocolate sea of skin.
What must she pray for? I think.
Please Bhagwan, find my daughter a rich boy from Umreeka...
Please Bhagwan, my son is a seedha-saada, susheel boy; he deserves a handsome dowry... and a car... and a 2 BHK flat too...and a...
By now I'm having fun playing what-goes-on-in-who's-head. I shift my gaze to a man lying prostrate on the ground, murmuring to the stony God. He must want something very, very badly to be trying this hard. But he looks well off; I can tell from the gold running in coils around his thick neck and the size of him. What more could he possibly want?
Bhagwan, another contract and I'll buy that foreign coupé...
Bhagwan, I want a son this time. I've too many daughters already. A son, please. A son...
Hmmm, but I mustn't make fun of someone's desires. What if he is praying for someone's life?
I sober up and look elsewhere. Oooooh, now what do we have here? A middle-aged man with a bounty of chest hair is eyeing a young teenager, who stands, next to him, eyes closed, hence unaware of what his roving eye is doing to her in his dirty head.
Chee, chee, chee! I wrinkle my nose.
Oh, but he goes beyond that! He lifts a finger and grazes the skin on her arm ever so slightly so that the girl may have just not noticed it, and she hasn't. She is so lost in her prayers. And of course, who expects such behaviour in a temple?
What could he be thinking?
Oh, she's nice! Why hasn't she noticed me? Notice me! Look! Look here...
And he repeats his depraved act, this time rousing the girl from her trance, who looks at him in astonishment and murderous rage. She gives him the eyes; he stares back, a lewd smirk cracking open on his smug face. The girl moves away from him. But the man is already following her...
Lewdness in a temple? Why have you not stricken this man, O Mighty One?! He defiles your home with his licentious thoughts and perverse actions...
"Let's go." My Mother commands, interrupting my dialogue with God and after a lingering gaze at the poor girl, I follow her outside the temple, where she is offering alms to the beggars.
One of the beggars asks her for more money. "Paanch rupiya se kya hota hai, behen?" He holds up the five rupee coin in my mother's face who wrinkles her nose at him.
"I'll give what I please." To me she complains, "Bhikariyon ko dekho! They demand money now, instead of begging for it." Then pulling me by the hand she lashes out, "And why were you sniggering in the Temple? Badtameeze! How improper it is. A temple is a place for meditation, not someplace you can have fun."
I raise my eyebrows in bemused incredulity. Of all the people having fun inside the temple, I am the one being reproved over my impropriety?
Bhagwan, teri leela tu he jaane! (God, you know what you're doing best.) But with all due respect, when has a place and a hunk of stone ever stopped your children from being immoral?