Hanging with the Gods

The board exams bring out the best in people: the hard working side, the silent side, the lack of facebook side (really?) and the religious side. Today I brought out my religious side, and went to three temples. Here are some excerpts from my thoughts:

1. Went to Nanganallur, never hang out in that part of town. Went in a bus, where this guy was asking for donations (begging) and gave me this pamphlet explaining his situation. Didn’t want to give him money because it sounded like a scam, but everyone else started giving, and so I did too (#herdmentality)

2. Went with mother. She’s a devout person, but that really hasn’t passed on to me. Punal is in bad shape, smells like dead fish (wonder why). I’m agnostic, which my father takes as me wussing out on the whole God decision. “You either are, or aren’t”, he says. Ah well, some decisions are best left hanging, to be made according to the situation. I mostly went because I wanted to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, best not to leave everything to chance (hence the studying, says my uncle).

3. On the way saw great places for shooting. I always look out for those kind of places. Places like this HUGE public ground where guys where playing, cricket, football, volleyball and just about any sport you could have out in the open with a bunch of other guys. Reminded me of 127 hours opening…also saw a long fish market next to a McDonald’s (#irony).

4. Next took an auto from the bus stop to the inner depths of the Sanctum Sanctorum of Chennai. Every which way we turned, there was a temple. My mom said she went to these temples since she was ten. I doubt I’ll be telling my kids that. The autokaaran took the long way there, and my mom got pissed (funny how I was chill when it was time to go to a temple). Had this weird story idea for a detective movie, involved a pink badger (#heathallucination)

5. First stop was the Raja Rajeshwari Temple. Was dark, as if the idols were like Dracula and would flame on in the sun. We were standing in the queue for an Archana ticket (really, a queue? I say!). It took quite a while actually, because there was a grizzled old coot giving the tickets. He seemed half-asleep, what with it being Sunday and all. Had another scene idea where a hitman arrives in this sleepy part of town, enters the temple, goes to the old guy, gets the ticket and pays with a bullet (#wordplay).

6. I had to take off my shirt. The little girl standing next to me started crying. Wonder why guys have to take off their shirts here (there’s a nasty joke involving what the gods want). Went to the first idol, that of the Lord Ganesha a.k.a Elephant, where the priest said if we wanted an Archana with this god, we had to get another ticket. Talk about commercialization….I mean if you really followed religion, why would you monetize it (I’m talking about the spiritual side of it, not the practical side)? I’ll bet Ganesha didn’t say, “You want my blessings, mortals, you gotta pay.” When the priest asked my mom for my star details, her voice changed to a more…calm voice. That’s the voice she uses at temples, quite unlike her home voice. The priest unfortunately couldn’t hear us…and so started a cycle of repetition.

7. Next walked around until we came to the main Goddess, Rajeshwari, who was waiting for us atop golden stairs (#notjoking). We climbed up and did the Archana part, and then…my mom started singing. As she was singing, she was holding up the line behind us (#trafficjam). Old ladies started complaining, as usual.

8. At temples, people have to sit down for a while. Just sit. My mom started chanting some sahasranamam, while I had another story idea. What if all the gods were in Parliament, voting over what decisions to make about peoples’ lives? Rama, Krishna, the Pandavas and the popular gods would have veto over the proceedings, and refreshments would be the bananas and coconuts that people give the idols. And they would be debating over random things, like whether India should win a match or not (#snl). A remake of that idea by Hollywood would be Christian gods and saints…something to think about…

9.  My mom became a hypocrite when she was chanting those shlokas, kept telling me not to get distracted by my environment. Yet she was getting distracted by my very presence. After I told her that, the buzz in my ears stopped. We then visited the founder of that temple, another old grizzled man (#notacoincidence), who my mom knew ever since she started coming there (to find out when, read the above stuff closely, the answer is in there (like you would care (if you did, I pity you))). This guy’s place was so silent it made the silence of America on the 9/11 memorial days pale by comparison. I wonder what he does there everyday…just sit there and read holy books?

10. We then went to the Hanuman temple. The Hanuman over there is huge, like 37 feet or something.He was so huge that there was a flight of stairs behind him so that his minions (priests) could clean him, feed him milk, dress him up, you know, like how huge 37 foot monkey stone gods usually are. I remember the few times I was there: the Paal Abhishekam (Milk Bath) was quite cool. You should go check it out sometime, I mean, who wouldn’t (#sarcasm)? My favorite God is Hanuman, but I don’t know why. I’ve always thought of him as a superhero who doesn’t flinch in the face of danger (see: Hanuman and Raavan face-off that leads to the burning of Lanka)

11. The Hanuman temple was quite crowded, in complete contrast to Temple 1. It’s so crowded that I accidentally elbow an old lady (probably the last physical contact with a man’s elbow in her lifetime). Also, unlike the previous temple, there’s food. Hot pongal graces my hands and fills my stomach. There’s a secret to making this kind of pongal that restaurants need to acquire. Once acquired, huge profits await. And it’s not just pongal, I mean, any prasadam in these huge temples is probably the best in the city. I can understand why the less privileged tend to hang out around these places: kick ass food and guilt-ridden people in search of performing good deeds.

12. Ran into mom’s friend and her family. Don’t know them that well…have hung out with them a couple of times. The usual question about the boards were asked: How is board exam preparation going? I as usual replied: Going… On to the next temple!

13. Temple 3 was the Hayagreevar Temple, he of knowledge and education (or so they say). This temple was crowded as well, by board examinees such as myself, in an attempt to make a last minute plea to Him in order to get them through this period of torment and anguish. These pleas were, as you can predict, milked for their monetary value by the temple trustees.

14. The highlight of the trip to this temple happened when everyone in the temple congregated at the feet of the main idol, Sri Hayagreevar himself. As is the case in Sankara School, the guys and girls were separated, with the guys’ shirts taken off (no girl screamed this time). I was stuck between two older men, with backs rivaling the entanglement of medium sized bushes. And as we waited for it to end, there was bodily contact, I’m sorry to say. And I squirmed. ‘Twas horrifying. Somehow, next to the steps leading up to one of the idols, lay a Sony box. And just when you thought there were limits to advertising. Idea: temples can make money through advertising, since they’re anyway commercializing religion. Why not go all out? And temples are a huge source for aimless individuals, probably poor decision makers (they’re at a temple out of their own choice? Yeah right). And then there would be no need for archana tickets. Call me a twisted person, but hey, isn’t the world twisted.

15. The trip there was over, and the trip back began. Our trusty autokaaran was waiting for us (partly because he had to as payment was due and partly because he wanted to get blessed himself) and we sped along to my uncle’s place, then to my grandparents’ house and then back home. There’s nothing quite interesting to report about those trips, mostly because THEY’RE NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!

That is all. If you are reading this, clearly you have nothing else to do.

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