Thursday, October 19, 2017

A seeking on the night of lights

A tiny glance, a tiny question, and a curt negation. That was it for my visit to the nearby temple for some peacetime indulgences, a mission unaccomplished. Then I caught a pair of eyes questioningly staring at me, probably on a same mission. To them, I gestured in negation. The temple priest could thank me for one inquiry less day. My negation was enough to turn that person - who belonged to those eyes - back from where he'd been coming in from.

I caught up to the person before he could leave. A gray-haired but still very able elderly gentleman, in a religious garb of unquestionably Hindu flavor - the ochre/saffron kurta and wraparound an easy giveaway - with a curled walking stick in one hand that served more as an aesthetic than a functional purpose.
"Any other place to seek?" I inquired him.
"There's another one ahead" he replied.
And that's how we two became a team, brought together by a common seeking. Although unintentionally so, we stuck together for the next coupla hours. A very long time for seekers' fulfillment, indeed.

Thanks to such pairing, I got to see a new face of the city that I call home (Home Numero Uno). Novelty being my main drug, came aplenty on this eve. There were places, people, things and attitudes, that I stumbled into, and got to observe and experience, who I've never observed or interfaced with before.

From the Shani Mandir, we walked to the Devraha Ghat, a mere stone's throw away. Apparently the Gomti river-front is densely populated with ashrams and saint-adobes. The Ghat itself is a non-entity for the time being. The recent river-front renovation plans have pushed them into oblivion, or to better put, off the map of the new seekers. People don't visit them anymore, because they offer neither an inner calm or external aesthetic. Only once the renovation work is completed, will the ghats be restored to their earlier prime. The old people still know these exist, and visit for channelising their faith - someone who understands how faith works can better explain.

The Devraha Ghat is in a mess, apart from the temple of Devraha Rishi (देवरहा बाबा) , which is small but elegantly done. It is rare to come across idols of Indian ascetics as the centerpiece, but here's one. As I thought, such deifications/reverances gives the venue a more human appeal, and is a more effective way to connect to the spiritual core, than putting up idols of the ultra Gods of the Indian canon.

The time we turned into the temple complex adjoining the ghat, was coincidental with a devotee - a middle aged gent in a formal attire of a shirt and pants - finishing his prayers to a marble idol of the saint. At the end of the prayers, the being of the devotee is suffused with bliss. Besides, there is also an activation of the sacred offerings/prasad (प्रसाद), which after being offered to the divinity is then ready for human consumption. Being the only ones around, the good-natured blissful gent shared the Prasad with us. A coupla laddoos (sweetmeat) for I; and the same, plus Rs50 for my friend (for appearing overtly Hindu or overtly hermit, I suppose).

Thus, free food was achieved. Wait, what about that which we came seeking? - that still remained unaccomplished. Taking a gander, the hermit was dismayed - confirmed that his usual liaison was missing today. Then we planned to seek further ahead. Walking out of the temple complex, we took to the road for Q.

About a hundred meters into our resumed walk, the hermit spotted a rickshaw puller on the opposite side - a short, rotund, gray-beard - reminded of the laughing Buddha. Apparently he was an amicable guy who often had the same seeking as ours. I was instructed to hop across, and find out if he could help us. So I did. Alas, he responded in negation - the sources he mentioned were already tried and found dried up. I crossed the road back, to update the hermit. Thus, we continued further in our seeking.

Conversation happened in bursts during the long walks. Where thee be from? What thee be upto? What be thee family? Why thee be out on a day of familial attractions and obligations? Answers to these, interspersed with narratives and stratagem involving that which we were out to seek. Then a sudden few minutes of quiet. But whatever did to keep us motivated and ease his anxiety about this "lad" who decided to follow.

We turned in towards Q from the big and busy "tiraha". The hermit had planned to find a guy who satisfied seekings. He was upfront in telling me that this'd be a Muslim boy we'd be visiting; maybe he was getting over his own stance of censure to men of other religiosities (as I'd expect an overtly Hindu guy to be).

In a coupla hundred meters, we hit a square, at one corner of which was the Sharda Mata Temple. Our seekings were diverted to the frontyard of this temple, upon spotting the priest and another shaggy old fella satisfying their seeking in full view of the traffic buzzing by. The priest was a young, athletic-seeming fella who was balanced against a temple pillar; and opposite to him, at about a coupla armlengths, sat the shaggy fella busy with the seeking; and to their side, we perched.

A hit happened. A short conversation between the hermit and the shaggy fella also happened. They discussed possibilities of seeking around old Lucknow that night. Also discussed was how I didn't know the physics to a perfect chillum drag. In that time, the priest's lady (priestess?) also made an appearance. Dressed in ochre, similar to her husband, she exuded a calm, pious and sincere vibe. I hope my drifting gaze didn't offend the priest - I did think about how they co-exist, running the temple as a home, and if the priest were in direct connection with the Gods, he could've read my mind and got offended.

The shaggy fella knew a nearby prospect source. The hermit and I bid farewell and resumed the seeking. We were upbeat that this would be it. Only a few meters in, we spotted our source, languishing by the roadside, adjacent to a ragpickers' collective, in the dark of the twilight. Turns out his protege was the same Muslim guy that the hermit had earlier mentioned, and that the protege was off to his village. No luck for us here, either. Onwards, comrade.

We walked past the Q Bus Depot - memories of my travels came rushing. Past it, we took the left, towards Aminabad, which was the last venue we had decided to check out before closing our seeking for the eve. It was the longest stretch of our walk together. Past the Tunday wali gali, past the main square, past the footwear and apparel stores, to get to the Aminabad chowk (square). From the chowk, we took another left - into the avenue that I'd never explored before. Experiencing the buzz of the busy marketplace, we reached our final venue, a temple complex. The hermit turned inside, through the gates, and I followed. We skirted around the main temple, and reached the residential complex behind it - our venue. An open, thatch-roofed courtyard facilitated hangouts, and that's where we settled at after divesting of footwear.

Alien eyes darted all about. More specifically, 5 pairs of alien eyes. There was a priest, whom I greeted respectfully. With him was another visitor, or a friend. Then there were three adolescents, snake charmers by (situationally forced) profession, sitting with their snake boxes by their side. There were a few  beedis lying about - just the empty outer leaf. The inner contents of the beedis (aka the tobacco) had been exhausted. Where they were exhausted were on a newspaper. What for, needed no explanation. We were in a Shiv Mandir. Satisfaction was in progress.

The priest and his friend settled down in a cross-legged posture on the floor in the middle of the courtyard. The hermit got an invite to join in, and I followed. We seated next to those two, and thus our tiny circle of four came to be. The snake charmers, who were satisfying their seeking independently in the meantime, were asked and they offered us a tiny amount of what they had. A mix was prepared, and packed into a chillum. Then a hit.

When that finished, efforts started towards another one. The hermit was entrusted with beedis to dismantle and salvage tobacco from. I helped with optimization, making sure none of the tobacco got left behind in the beedis. The priest and his friend started a conversation that got louder with time, as its contents gained sensationality. At one point of time, the priest was narrating an incident about an accident of a friend entailing a visit to the doctor, who upon a single glance at the injured declared him to be a thug, which was a correct observation (as per the priest). It is at this time that I jumped into the conversation, asking the priest to be more specific. This is what got us talking.

The priest was a memorable kinda character. He wasn't the typical priest (as depicted in teleseries). A break from the traditional mould, I'd say. Young, disciplined in the way he'd maintained his body, simple in a vest and an ochre wrap, conversant. The last part was the most untypical about him. He would occasionally use English words, uttered in correct pronunciation. The first time I heard him, he was lampooning Baba Ramdev for fooling people with diabetes medicine. It was interesting to get in a conversation with this guy, though by the end of the evening, it got kinda annoying.

The priest introduced himself as Ashutosh, and his friend Rajkumar. I also introduced myself. My name was enough to start a discussion with the priest, him being overly fussy in how it should be correctly pronounced (duh, like I didn't know). Upon learning of my background, he mentioned his younger brother who was doing his bachelors in engineering from Annamalai University far down south (India). Then he started raving about Ankit Fadia - apparently he thought highly of him. Or maybe he wanted to interest the techie me. I interjected at this point, to clarify that AF isn't as bright a character as made to seem. I didn't reveal how AF was a mere script kiddie who had been declared a charlatan at DefCon, and whose appointment as Digital India campaign's brand ambassador dismayed me greatly.

In the meantime, another round of chillum was prepared. Before we could start, Rajkumar mentioned about my incorrect handling of the chillum, then taught me a good way to pull (there are 3 or 4 good ways, overall).

The human dimension is boundless, and I had a good run through it on this eve.