I arrive at the bus stop and wait. The sweeper sweeps the road with random and ferocious strokes of the broom and lets off a cloud of dust so high into the air, there's no hope of their settling down for the next hour or so. Indeed, he works like a mini storm in action.
Our bus arrives and gobbles us. I sometimes lose my window seat nowadays to the fledgling headcount. Today is one of those unlucky days. I take the last seat. Notorious for being bumpy, it's the next best thing after the window seat. A tall fellow with oversized legs has unofficially captured that part of the seat that lies just behind the aisle citing legroom as his excuse for the exclusive privilege. I've seen him cry foul whenever a person unwittingly 'took' his seat. The nagging would continue until our tall fellow was granted his place. The bus vrooms its way thru the labyrinth.
Bangalorean roads are dotted with temples with alarming regularity. Gods, like cats and street dwellers, are fiercely territorial. The gods in the East are very different from the ones in the West, the gods in the South are very different from the ones in the North. Each time our bus crosses a dingy but prominent temple, my fellow travelers join in unison to gesticulate a pranam. Not surprising, given the lengths people go to appease their favorite deities. Lighting incense stick or diya, wearing holy threads around the wrist or waist, blowing the conch shell, wearing finger rings to pluck celestial connections, ringing the bell, reciting sacred hymns, distributing prashad, offering sacrifices, organizing pujas…well, they've done it all. Each locality has its favorite deity with its own fan following. Quiz the devotees and they'll cull substantial evidence from mythological scriptures to prove why their god is better than others. Each god has a celestial history to tout, valour to exhibit, earthly visits to celebrate, wrath to be wary of and divinity to be revered.
The devotee has his preferred god. Ask him and he'll immediately ferret out a personal experience from his past to prove how his god had helped him during distress. There's a special chemistry and understanding between him and his god, he'll say; something that is not visible to others. Since the world is too corrupt, he lives a double life: one as a commoner in real life, the other as a heavenly zealot in constant pursuit of his lord. The two are mutually exclusive. The two are strangers. The two can hardly be reconciled. The god will understand that the earthly manifestation of his devotee has to make do with a macabre world, and consequently forgive his many sins. He must, for doesn't the fanatic devotee worship him with unfailing zeal? Surely a little clemency can be expected in return.
And so the myriad gods, held captive in their dingy temples under the watchful eye of the pujari, remain frozen in mud or stone, perpetually showering blessings on the devotees. The devotee, so blessed, moves on to fulfilling earthly obligations. Our bus, oblivious of the divine nexus between its occupants and the roadside gods, is duty bound to serpentine through the roads in pursuit of our office. My co-passengers continue with their pranams at each sighting of a stray god. The ephemeral darshan is so fulfilling. Our vehicle cruelly severs all the sacred ties and deposits us at our workplace.