Here we go again. This Sunday we‘ll go to a new temple. We whizz through a Sunday morning Mumbai streets. The roads do not have the full fledged crowd we always see. The shops are not open yet, there are sleepy eyed people wandering around, not made their minds up yet how to start the day. The cows are awake; they follow their owners with a very slow pace chewing juicy grass bits. Their foreheads are coloured with red orange powder, ready for the devotees who would pay Rs 10 for a handful of grass to feed them. We go through streets I haven’t seen before, Sea Link – the bridge connecting the new Mumbai and the old Bombay- has made these areas less popular. We pass several small temples, big temples, goats, (why are they out this early?) green mosques and short white minarets with elaborate carvings. People get along fine happily in this multi faith street in a fusion of food, culture and aroma of religious incense. Then we are there.
A white building stands majestically like layers and layers of clouds on top of each other have come down from the heavens in this tiny corner of Mumbai to this hot, dusty maidan streaming with people. There is a massive river of yellow, glittery, sequined, pink, red, saris always draping over one shoulder, bangles, hair decorations, bindis, earrings, finger rings, toe rings, kajalled eyes waiting to go in. There are mountains of flip flops of every design, every colour in front of make shift stalls. These are serious stalls, you can buy marigold garlands, little yellow pyramids of food, coconuts and many more things for the temple and leave your shoes with them. Multi purpose temple stores they are. My friend does the negotiation, we buy a basket of goodies, I follow the conversation only hearing ‘ha, ha’ from the man, he must be agreeing with something. I clumsily take my camera out, ‘no photography’; I need to give the camera to the man. He gives me a little tea token kind of white round disk with a number on it. I want to take the photo of that too. The shoes and the camera are gone, we have one small wicker basket of things and I am ready to join the queues of young women carrying their heavily sleeping children in their arms. Grannies must have applied black soot on their foreheads and their cheeks to keep the evil eye away. Then may be there is another explanation I cannot even imagine. This is India; there are people who do not eat garlic, onions and potatoes for religious reasons. The assumptions I make are bound to be not correct. No assumptions, to judgments. I can only see things and accept as they are.
Old women shuffle their tired feet swaying their body as slow and as an old elephant. Years of flat flip flops make it painful to walk elegantly but they turn their heads and arm thick, long,one single braid of greying hair decorated with jasmine blossoms whip the space around them. Ears adorned with multiple earrings. They wait so close to each other holding their baskets and a little square handkerchief wiping their sweat away. I am well prepared for this wait; I have a bottle of water and patience. It is a part of waiting with people, you smile at them, they smile at you their unquestioning gaze resting on your hair slide, nail polish, bracelets, skirt, you become a part of the crowd, they take you in and push and shove like they do to each other.
Today we are lucky, the man on the stall tells us to follow him and we do, we go through ‘foreigners and VIP’ gate. I follow my friend holding my little token, we go through small gates, go up a couple of steps, go down a couple of steps, enter from this door, that gate and we are there. We missed the joys of waiting for hours in the stuffy heat of the temple: we are in. We give the basket and the temple man blesses it and gives it back to us, and puts an orange powder on our foreheads with his thumb. I look at the small Ganesha wrapped up in glistering blankets and orange marigolds, white rice shoots, offerings of red flowers, green grass, It is too crowded to have a moment in front of him. Everybody wants to see him, touch the enclave he is sitting in and touch their foreheads and their hearts. Ganesha is powerful; there is enough of him for everyone. They are so happy to be there, their lips moving in murmured prayers, handing their baskets to the monks and taking them back, they are too busy to see the beauty of the enclave and the ceiling and the lamps surrounding it. It is hot, crowded, temple guards tell the people firmly to move up so the new ones can see their Lord as well. We sit on small round platform opposite Ganesha, the masses are slowly moving from left to right. There is a screen on the left showing the idol, if you can’t see it properly when you are in front of it, you can gaze at the screen as long as you want. I look at my friend, she must have touched her forehead, the orange splodge has yielded in a soft mango coloured triangle along her hairline, mine must look as elegant as hers. We sit there she is in her serenity, me observing every minute of the buzzing temple. The crowds move eternally from left to right in small shuffling bare footed steps and one of the ladies just let her self go and fell like a silk scarf on the marble floor. They carried her to our side; she is obviously hot and needs water but still not stopping her silent prayers. I give her my water. The fans whirl on every corner, the air is heavy and I feel the sweat meandering down on my back. There is a collective content, a mass low key happiness that they are there, that they have made the effort and came to the temple on a Sunday morning, that they are healthy enough to wait for an hour or so and walk around and touch the pedestal. They swan their necks to see the idol and they say a prayer or two and move on.
We need to move on too. We leave to the right, through little shops selling every thing related to Ganesha and all the other gods; bracelets, earrings, pendants, Turkish blue eye beads. You can even buy the seeds of a tree, Shiva’s tear drops, Rudrashka, they calculate there and then which one is suitable for you . You can even buy a glow in the dark night lamp with Ganesha and Vishnu and Parvati on it. Naturally, I fulfil my duty and buy little Ganesha, middle sized Ganesha, dangling Hanuman, toy size Shiva linga; you name it I buy it. We are on the street now, but the Temple occupies the street. Faith is more important than organised traffic, people can wait in jam-packed cars for the non-existent red light to change on dwarfed roads, Ganesha is worth it.
We find our stall, I find my token. Our shoes are neatly placed next to a flip-flop mountain and my camera is there too. I knew Ganesha would have looked after them but you need a shoe mountain man to make sure.
The people who started to wait the same time as us are still waiting, the young child is still a sleep, black sooth smudged more. He must be getting heavy for the mum, she is going to wait for some time to go in see the Lord and probably pray for an easy life, health, success in school, money for milk, new bangles and shiny flip flops. I look at the soft white curves of the cloud like building, the light blue sky behind it and the lovely people who will eat bell puris at street stalls, swallow water from plastic a cup without touching the rim of it and go back home on hot, heaving busses which would take more than two hours, tired but full of hope and complete trust that Ganesha is on their side.
In the refreshing coolness of the car, on the way back, I think of the book I have been reading: ‘He listens, he sees, he cares’ it says about the elephant god. I am sure he does too.. .