I recently went on a temple trip with my parents. The right word for the trip would be a pilgrimage, but that makes me sound like a pagan from prehistoric times so I am not going to use it.So, we started the trip by getting on a bus. Why a bus you ask, why not the more comfortable option of a train or flight journey? Because we were going to a state in India that is still stuck in a time loop in the nineteenth century.
Now, I don’t want you to assume that buses in all of India are horrible, far from it. In several regions you can get buses that boast services on par with a middle eastern airline. But not in this state, here the buses are still designed to imitate medieval torture chambers. But that is assuming that they are designed at all, there is an all real possibility that they are actually remains of some ancient civilization that are being put into use by the state government.
We started our journey by cramming ourselves into such a bus, with leg space that literally bit into your feet, cushions that had nails in strategic positions so as to poke you if you even dreamt of getting comfortable, and rods and poles in odd places so you felt like a loaf of bread being baked.
I ,of course, assumed this was part of the packaged deal since mortification of the flesh is supposed to be a spiritual experience, isn’t it? Sorry, still not sure how this ‘religion’ thing is supposed to work. The roads were playing their part in the concept of religious self mutilation. To describe the roads imagine the warty back of a toad, now imagine that this is a teen-aged toad that has a bad case of warts. Seriously, someone needs to inform this state government that concrete and asphalt have been invented and can be used to lay straight roads.
After around ten hours in this bus being tossed around like clothes in a dryer we finally reached our destination. We rented a small room in a small hotel for an exorbitant price, because touristy place so please cough up all the dough you have. Then, I had to take a cold shower! It was barely even morning, I can still feel the damn bus shaking me around and I am supposed to take a damn cold shower. The reason given of course is that I have to be clean and pure when I present myself before the Gods.
Really? Because along with being omnipresent and omnipotent he also has an omniscient nose? Is he going to sniff under my armpits and go like, “This guy stinks get him out of my temple!” Because if he is then a) Dude, stop sniffing people’s armpits, that’s just plain weird and b) bullying people because you think they smell is just plain mean! And besides, physical cleanliness is alright but what about mental cleanliness. I have one of the dirtiest minds I know of. If you could peak into it for a second you would know there isn’t a bleach or deodorant strong enough to clean it. And being omniscient he should know that! So yeah, I will take the damn shower but my mind is still dirty!
We got ready and headed to the temple. We didn’t eat any breakfast, because along with being clean he also expects you to be hungry and weak when you meet him, for some reason. How did we find our way to the temple you ask? You know how in a video game you realize you are going the right way if more and more minions keep coming at you , then you know the boss is nearby. Exactly! In a temple town you keep walking in the direction of the tourist guides, peddlers and beggars and as their numbers keep growing you know you are on the right path.
We finally reached the temple complex. It is one of the largest temples in India. It is an ancient and magnificent building, a true testament to the splendor and glory of the cultural heritage of my country. I felt humbled and uplifted as I gazed at the architectural achievement of this edifice.
And I would have felt more of that , if only all the Gopurams had not been painted in brilliant shades of fluorescent red, green and yellow, in odd patterns that defied any attempts at color coordination. Why, just why? Why not let the rock have its natural color, why slather it in colors that were obviously not present in the ancient times when this temple was built? If you cannot improve it, just let it remain in its timeless glory. And if there is a God of fashion and color coordination (given the vast Hindu pantheon I am sure there is) he is very pissed at whoever did this.
We stepped into the temple and my eyes widened in horror at what I saw! People, way too many of them! The temple was crammed full of people like misshapen marshmallows on an assembly line (are marshmallows even made on an assembly line? If they are that was what they would look like).. I shuddered at the sight but before I could react the crowd was carrying me into the temple. It is a humbling experience when you realize you are just a marshmallow on a millenia old production line!
Say what you will about the God of the old testament but that guy had guts, he was a visionary. Whenever he was not happy with the latest version of humans he would just send a plague and recall all of the models in the market and start over. And that is how you make a good product, that is efficient production. There was none of this beta testing and regular updates and add-ons of this new testament liberal management team. We need the old guy back, if only so he can release a few plagues. There are way too many of us faulty human models running around. As I was wondering if there was a democratic process to vote in the old testament Gods, we joined the long snaking line for the Darshan of the lord.
We Indians do not have a sense of personal space. It is an alien concept to us. We just don’t have the genetic material for it. Whenever we get together in a public space we like to huddle as close as possible, trying to merge our bodies together like a freakish alien monster from a B-grade horror movie. We like to babble in hawkish voices making as much noise as we possibly can (it generally sounds like we are collectively going ‘wheeeeeeeee’ over and over again) and flailing our arms around pretending like we are doing something important while really having no idea what it is. And when millions of people can do this with ease and I can’t it simple means I am the mutant, I am the freak! I should be ashamed of myself and I am!
So as I was standing in line, I was having a hard enough time trying not to ram my crotch into the enormous ass of the rotund guy in front of me as the people behind me kept pushing me ahead. Then this really short woman with a really round belly like a large earthen pot gets behind me and shoves her belly into my ass. I don’t know why, but it felt extremely weird. I turned around to face this oblivious woman and simply said , “No”! I am fluent in four Indian languages and I could have used any one of them and she would have probably understood me better, but somehow I could only use English. So when she shoved her belly into my ass again, I turned to her, and I kid you not, I said “No, means No!”. She simply gave me a bemused look and kept pushing me around with her potbelly. I know, I know, I should be ashamed of myself and I am.
After three long, sweaty, stinky hours of being part of this non-consensual mass monster, I finally reached the sanctum sanctorum. The sanctum was lit only with oil lamps because tradition prohibits the use of any electrical illumination. I had five seconds to stare at the blurry outline of the lord in his sanctum before I was dutifully shoved forward by one of the guards.
After another hour we were finally out of the temple and on our way back. There was no time to admire the ancient architecture or marvel at the craftsmanship of the art of display at the temple as we had to catch the last bus back home. As we climbed back into the ancient torture chamber of the bus, I was glad that the trip was finally over, but was it?
You see, the omniscient lord in his omnipresence must have definitely sensed the blasphemous and indecent thoughts I had thought in his vicinity, and I was convinced he was going to use his omnipotence to punish me for it.
On our way back home, the bus stopped at a run down highway hotel that would be our only choice for dinner that night. This hotel had four rickety tables, two squeaky waiters and only three items on the menu all of which were the variations of the same basic dish, the dosa. We had no choice but to order one. Little did I know at that time that the lord would use this dosa as the tool to pass his divine judgment.
Just as we opened the door to our house, I felt like my large intestine was having a sudden rush of divine inspiration. I rushed to the loo and ever since then I have been having intense religious experiences every half hour that are leaving me feeling exhausted but oddly satisfied and definitely devout! I was going to write a lot more about the trip, but it seems my small intestine is having an epiphany that just cannot wait. What can I say, God does work in mysterious ways!