We humans are creatures of habits. Especially small kids. Every day when I come back from office my grand-daughter Rhea (all of two years old) is waiting for me to take her out. I live in a modern 11 story tower. This building is in the midst of bustling locality. We normally go to a Vitthal Mandir complex, which is nearby, for evening outing.
When we go, Rhea is all decked up with a small empty purse on her shoulder and cell phone in her hand! She wants to imitate her mom. The Mandir complex is not more than 150 meters from our house. But during this to and fro movement to the Mandir, the activity that I observe is amazing. During these 45 minutes that we spend daily, I see many nuances of human activity. When we are in a rush, we observe only chaos but when we look at things leisurely, each person that we see is busy in doing something in a peculiar way. Hence I felt the title Dance of Civilization!
Our observations start with the watchmen at the gate. Different watchmen have their own pattern, some not bothering to see who is passing through, some are busy talking on cell phone. Some are very attentive and doing their job sincerely. Some are friendly with kids and chat with Rhea.
From the society gate our first stop is a next door Bank and sometimes a shop selling various tea leaves including the imported ones! The bank is a modern bank with internet banking and ATM’s and what not. One sees so many people rushing to the ATM and running away. The Tea shop is in basement; so our favourite pass time is climbing up & down the steps of the bank and the tea shop. While we are busy with this, we see every day, a set of pensioners whiling away their times, a set of young friends chatting. Dogs sleeping, an old beggar just idling and not begging!
We move further! There are grocery shops, a tea vendor, and an electrical repair shop. Almost the similar set of people is seen; some are chatting with owners, some are chatting over a cuppa while some are waiting, doing nothing. (Is it that many people have nothing to do or pursue in the evening?) Further ten steps ahead is a cobbler sitting in a corner. In last 30 years I have never used the services of a cobbler or a मोची in local language. I had thought that cobblers do not exist these days! I have always done my shoe polish myself and my footwear never needed any mending! But every day when we pass through, there is a set of different people getting their footwear mended and it appears that there is good natured gossiping going on while footwear is mended! In Marathi, there is an appropriate word for this kind of gossip “चांभार चौकशी”! Rhea has become friends with the cobbler and we spend a minute or two watching what he is doing and then say bye to him!
The Mandir complex is about 2 minutes walking distance from our society but we meander watching, observing, questions all the time what is this and what is that? We take almost ten minutes to reach our destination. Amidst the human activity there is traffic. The road is small and there are mostly, no foot paths. Most drivers think that by honking, the person in front will get blown away; unfortunately for him that does not happen. So more honking! Then there is Slalom plus Obstacle race combined for the two wheeler riders. These blokes will easily win any such race world over! I saw one motorcycle rider missing the foot path by a couple of inches in Slalom mode! I am going to write to the Sports Minister to encourage such sports in our country! Coming back to honking, I think since the horns do not work as expected, many will shift to Helicopters! (Do Helicopters have horns?)
Finally we reach the Mandir after watching some part of “Dance of Civilization”! If you really want to watch the spectacle you must spend sufficient time in a Mandir. Why do people come to a Mandir? Well there are various reasons but top of the list is to pay obeisance to Him or Her! Every individual has different degrees of beliefs in Him, for some He is the ultimate, for some they come daily, some come only when they are in trouble, some visit when something good has happened in their lives, some come to see him just before getting married (You need it!) all decked in their traditional silks followed of course by a videographer. Some groups come to Mandir on specific days for their Bhajans, some groups come every day for Bhajans! The level of activity that we see is unbelievable. The process of visit to the mandir starts from removal of footwear! Different people follow various methods of removing shoes, some keep them very near the steps, some keep far from the steps. Some request even a strangers to look after their footwear so that it is not stolen! Getting inside a Mandir is again an art, I thought one just walks inside! Some just solemnly wait for a few moments, hands doing namaskar, some follow similar method like Christians do it! Some touch each step by hand before walking up the next step. In extreme cases, some people crawl on all four, up the steps! It is said to be done as a penance. (Penance for what?) Rhea’s favourite is to watch meshes on the gutters inside the Mandir complex and ask me questions on the same!
Once people enter the Mandir there are again different ways each pays his/her obeisance to Him. Some perform a standing namaskar, some perform namaskar fully lying down on the ground. Some enter the Sanctum Sanctorum, some don’t. Some perform their Pradakshina, (Circumambulation) but all do it clockwise. Some do it once, some twice, some many time! Some do it slowly, some do it fast. Some are in hurry to go out and some sit in the mandir for some time. Some sing a hymn during all this process. My understanding tells me that when you come to pay obeisance, you should spare some time for Him. He does not invite you to visit the Mandir. We visit for our own sake. If we do not spend some time, we may not be able to feel the tranquility of the Mandir. If you visit the mandir just as another daily chore, then one might as well not visit! Rushing through is against the basic concept of visiting the mandir. A child has concepts clear about such things. Rhea does what she wants to do. On some days she will say I don’t want do namaskar; she can do this because she is not afraid of Him! She is not worried about His reaction to her actions. He never reacts, anyway! It’s all in our mind.
Another 30 meters ahead is a Mandi. We stroll in that direction at our speed. There are vegetable, fruit & flower vendors, hawking their goods. Then there are small roadside food vendors who sell their stuff. For Rhea it’s a great treat every day to see and touch see so many different vegetables, fruits and flowers. We repeat the same process of naming them and discussing their colours. She touches each one and gets the feel and expresses how she feels about it. Some vendors interact with her, some offer her a fruit, and some just ignore us. One vendor is more curious than others; he started telling her the names of vegetables in English, so I told him that English names are taught in school hence I am teaching her Marathi names. Then he started asking me about school education in my times, whether I had my education in English or Marathi and so on. Same set of people but different curiosities and interactions!
Then suddenly I see a bit of commotion in the area. I find that Municipal Corporation Van from anti encroachment drive has reached the Mandi. Some unauthorized vendors picked up their goods and put them in the zone of authorized vendor’s area! So they are safe now. Some food vendors had no place to hide so they lost their stuff to the van. Other equally unauthorized vendors continued their business as if nothing has happened! They had “settled” their issues before hand. Then there is one Ice Cream vendor. He occupies almost 15 sq met area including blocking of footpath with his ware and chairs, bang in front of the mandir gate! Encroachment van makes sure that they do not even go near him. For them that vendor does not exist! He is a well-connected politician. This unsavory activity goes on right at the gate of the Mandir but they know that God is in your mind, He does not really exist! Jaihind! Amen!