I am on my way to a sacred place. My parents tell me that the trip will be enjoyable. I am excited about the drive – they tell me that we will pass through a forest full of animals like the tiger, deer, bears and leopards. I hope we can sight a few of them along the way. We drive through the forest during the day time. It is hot and all we see are more cars coming down the road. The forest looks deserted and dry, very dry. The disappointment apart, we finally reach our destination – this holy place.
We alight and are immediately hit with the confusion and the mass of people! There are people every where milling around on the roads. I am submerged in this sea of humanity. I am a little scared but make sure that I am always around my family. Going away for even a second would mean being lost in this sea where every turn looks the same as the one before. It is lunch time but since I have eaten during the drive, I am content. Father finds an opening the crowd and leads us to the place where we can enter into this religious structure. Before going, it is mandatory for us to leave our footwear at a “safe” place. I help carry my grandmother’s footwear to the rack for safekeeping and we are ready to go. My parents decide that we can afford to go with the highest priced queue – Rs. 1500/- for 2 people. We are five in all, since I am only 7 years old, I get to go for free!
It is 3:00 p.m – we are told that this will only take 2 hours. The serpentine queue snakes around steel structures that form a chain of S’s. For shelter, there is a tin roof overhead. Ventilation is provided by father with a wave of a newspaper. Time ticks by – it is 3:30 p.m and the queue stops moving. Luckily enough, there is a steel bench along the walkway and we find the place to sit down. It is hot and smelly. However, I am happy – I have my father, mother, grandmother and uncle with me. Father manages to find a vendor supplying buttermilk a few rows away and we gulp it down in quick time. Money and the buttermilk exchanges hands through helpful people along the way. I am energized and start a playful fight with my father and uncle. Dad teaches me how to punch and I practice on my uncle until I get hurt. I sit down and listen to conversations around me. I start feeling thirsty and again, my father manages to arrange for water through the queue. Finally, we start moving again after 2 hours.
We quickly enter the premises after paying up at the counter. Here on, it gets difficult for me. I am sandwiched between strangers who are always pushing forward. Suddenly, there are more people around – about 3 people on either side of me. There must have been thousands in front and back. I don’t know. I can’t see through the bodies pressing against me. Dad pulls me aside and uncle finds a spot next to him that is free of the crowd. We are pushed along and just as I make it through the next door, the man at the door slams it shut! Luckily, my father is able to convince him that we are together and he is through! We enter a free space and are directed towards a small shrine. A small ritual ensues and the biggest advantage from this is that I get to eat a little coconut that is broken as an offering to God. We make our way back to another queue to enter the main sanctum. Again, the same ritual continues. I find myself enveloped by smelly bodies but always, there are my guardians – parents, grandmother and uncle to provide a little space for me.
Just as we are about to enter the sanctum, a man comes out and starts to close the gates! He is oblivious of the mass of people pressing on him and forces the gate shut. I am invisible to him as he pulls the steel gate along the railing, pushes people back and hits me in the process. My finger is stuck in the gate – he doesn’t care, he doesn’t know! I scream out in pain and again, my father comes to my rescue. He shoves the man aside, rescues my hand and I go through! I am hurt and in tears! Mother consoles and cajoles me. Dad is furious – I see him go back to the person and yell at him. My grandmother pulls him back, worried that he may hit him. We are now in the main sanctum. The time now passes by in a whiz. The doors open and I am held and pushed in. I am made to bow, lifted and pulled back out. My time with God passes by in a second after a wait of hours! It is the same for my family. We find ourselves in fresh air and free all of a sudden. No more pushing, no more shoving!
I ask my father – “Why did we have to struggle so much for this?” He admonishes me – it is God that we are seeking. I say, “I will never come back here”. My mother pitches in – “Shouldn’t say such things.” The questions remain – I always thought that God was this all knowing, pervading force in this world. At home, we pray to Him every day, seek his blessings and I feel good when I do. At this place, I see people pushing, shoving, ignoring courtesy that I thought humans were trained to show to other humans. I see people pulling, pushing, shouting – all to see God! Why is this important? Surely, He would punish these other people? I don’t know the answers to these questions. I am content that I can return home. I can now look for animals in the forest at night! Uncle says the animals are more active at night. Maybe, God will deem that I have been a good boy and show us a tiger!