India is a land of pilgrimages. India also looks like a landfill, more so around the holy shrines. I love travelling and have come across many places of worship across the length and breadth of the country. The filth and poverty that one encounters at the most worshipped places of our culture is a glaring evidence of how much we bother to please God in real life. I have come to believe that lack of sanitation and basic services is inversely proportional to the popularity of the pilgrimage. Bigger the deity, older the history more are the visitors and less is the availability of clean footpaths, hygienic food and water, security, travel convenience and add to that the ridiculous ritual practices!
So, with complete devotion I list a few top reasons of why I hate being a pilgrim these days.
- Holy shit.
You’ve traveled with back-breaking dedication over days and nights empty stomach (because apparently He likes if you go starving for weeks, immunity be damned!) to reach your trusted place of worship. You think you would just rush to Him and pray your heart out. Hold it mortal! First, you’ll have to reach the gates bare feet, crossing the muck on the way made from fine mixture of human and animal shit, food, piss, dirt and the rain. At the same time you have to balance the offerings of flowers and sweets, keep an eye on your family members, on the members of the pick pocket community, beggars, vehicles, cows, dogs, monkeys, rats, cats, crows and dead bodies. In the mean while one also has to negotiate the money priest wants to get your message across the altar. Plus the sweltering heat and sweat. Pheww..!
- Join the swarm.
You’ve proved your devotion is indestructible and completed the challenge. Your reward? join the swarm. It’s over these holy places I realize that I live on the second most populated and perhaps most densely packed country of the world, which happens to be in the tropics. The second most tightly packed place is the Bombay local trains. A slight gaze over the serpentine Q makes you appreciate that you’re here for at least a couple of more hours .The ‘line’ crawls painfully slow. Folks have to picnic, chant holy songs, eat, sleep, make phone calls, throw nasty glares, pick fights before they get audience with God.
- Blink and miss.
So finally, after cursing the system, the govt. the management, your luck, the priest and your other half (in your mind of course, remember, you’re at a temple, you have to be a good boy.) Besides, losing as much faith in idol worship as the fat around you belly you make it to the altar..!! Feeling blessed? Time up pal…! By the time your eyes focus on the God idol staring into infinity, its time up for you to make space for the worshipper behind you. No, don’t feel bad, calm down, calm down. Its His way of teaching you humility and patience. As the guards push you out the sanctum you’re expected to feel inner peace and eternal satisfaction. Ha ha..best of luck with that dude.!
- WTF…! My shoes..??
While you were trying to be at your best behavior, chanting, clapping, holding anger, ignoring hunger, food, water and heat, trying not to ogle, not checking facebook and whatsapp, persistently revising the list of demands that you’re gonna beg for ASAP, the world was still revolving. There were guys who figured out that you expertly kept one sneaker far from the other in the shoe stand and collected them as soon as you turned you back, James Bond..! You come back and let your jaw drop in 5 seconds flat..where are my shoes..? Reflexively you check your giant ass wallet in the back pocket to find your fingers smoothly slipping into your damp pocket. Bwah ha ha ..! you want to raise an alarm and call the corporator/ inspector/ security in charge/ punter and realize that you giant ass cell phone has vanished too..! Speaking of miracles don’t be too surprised if you still have that fake Armani on your wrist.
- Show me the money – part 1.
I’ve recently paid 50 bucks to a pandit for letting me stand near him and click picture of a procession, that too before he allowed me the sacred 1 Sq. ft. of space..! no kidding. Its common knowledge that you can speed up your visit to almighty (pun intended) by paying higher for the express line. Rs. 501, Rs. 1001, Rs.10,001 and so on. A similar concept I saw at Adlabs Imagica the amusement park. Though the money practice in temple was no less amusing. At the end of pooja, the pandit would invariably say “ You can pay the priest whatever you wish …its 1001 rs.” It’s like a roller coaster of relief and heartbreak. You thought what a pious man to carry out my mother’s last rites..until you heard the complete sentence. Let’s not get started on how clingy, shrewd and irritating at times these agents of God can be.
- Show me the money – part 2.
You thought if you butter the pockets of the priests they’ll shower you with blessings and you’ll get rich ..huh ? Wrong. Bad karma. How can you even think of material possessions in His humble abode? Forgot austerity? Just in case you didn’t, Indians have a plan B – Beggars. The moment you step out content with unloading your problems onto Him you get encircled by beggars of all kinds. Females with drowsy kids on their waist, old gentlemen on crutches, school age kids, lepers, deformed ones and so on. Yes it’s a sorry sight and your heart should melt. But mine doesn’t. Considering the fact that able people have made begging their livelihood and gotten used to food and money for free at temples that they’ve given up on real jobs totally. They play on your insecurities, in the form of well wishes, for which if you don’t give them some money, would turn to opposite. You hand them a handsome amount and off they shoot to the next customer, the promise of a beautiful wife, healthy kids, losing weight etc be damned.
- Wake up .! its only 3 am. We’ve got to climb a mountain.
Tell me, sleep is such a wonderful, mysterious, pleasing activity. Which God would feel happy about not respecting his creation of sleep and waking up at the oddest imaginable hour of the day to sing chants and take dip in ice cold water to please Him. My dislike for rituals didn’t come all of a sudden yesterday night. It has been nurtured for many years since the first time I had to get up at 3 for an arti and dip in the river. Ever observed that all the famous shrines are never easily approachable. Its partly because I understand Gods wanted peace for meditation so they went to the farthest corners in search of tranquility. And mainly because a lot of people make money looting you for services of taxi, malnourished horse rides, malnourished porters, cable cars, rickety lodges, etc. Not to mention you’re running on food left overs from last few days, sprinkled with choicest species of Salmonella, Shigella and Cholerae.
- “Hands behind your head..!”
Oh don’t shoot me, I just wrote all that under influence of a blessed shrub and di(wine); you can’t kill me for that right..! Seriously, while you are puzzled thinking about mockery of logic around you, you feel a slight brush below your belt region. You look down and realize its just a regular security check by a guy feeling you up at the expense of concern for your safety. I believe after certain months even they start enjoying their jobs. You can definitely shy away some terrorists with that behavior..very smart.! I appreciate the safety concern but not the fact that its far from being water tight.
So, I finally wrote it. Years and years of accumulating thoughts unburdened at last. I’d love to hear what you think. I’ll be the happiest if you have something to add too.