I went with Bong neighbor, her lizard-exterminating boyfriend, and his school friends to Shirdi yesterday. Waking up before five in the morning and bathing in cold water was the most religious part of the exercise. Brrrrr.
The drive was beautiful. A big, round, red sun sneaked upon the horizon and set the scattered clouds blushing. Obviously, the cloud population had been up to no good in the dark.
We stopped at the Shani temple on the way. Three burly parking attendants blocked the road and forced our driver to park in their special premises. The guys changed into rented orange dhotis and took a dip in water. They then walked to the temple, Bong and I following. Flies and filth were everywhere. We stood outside while the guys went in. Construction work was in progress around the temple, to give it a holiday resort look and feel. Men in rented orange dhotis groping their family jewels outside a temple that is dressing up in donation money to attract more donation money. I somehow managed not to throw up. In retrospect, it was only because I had no dinner and no breakfast.
We proceeded to Shirdi, where we were herded in a long queue. Devotees, their bawling children, and their aged parents all stood in silent veneration while the closed-circuit TV showed a telecast of the aarti. After the aarti, they broke the queue and stepped on each other’s feet to get to the main shrine. A woman from the underworld stood there with her AK-47 voice, making sure nobody got close to the idol. Lizard-exterminator was made of sterner stuff, and managed to touch the idol’s feet and have our prasad offered. (That’s how your sacred thread traveled, O religious heretic) I did not close my eyes or fold my hands or pray.
Organized religion is worse than organized crime. When one goes to a hospital, one invariably comes out feeling grateful that one is not ill like everyone around is. I get the same feeling when I come out of a temple.
On our way back, we took the Nasik-Pune highway through the Ghats. The mountains and dry bushes and anorexic rivers frolicked in the fading sunlight. Tux, I said a prayer for you there. I am sure God was not in the temple, or anywhere close to there. God was in the hills and the river and the sun was God’s eye. And when I was done asking for what I am sure will soon be yours even without special requests, the sun hid for a moment behind a cloud. I take it God was winking.