It is the soul's duty to be loyal to its own desires. It must abandon itself to its master passion.
- Rebecca West
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It was just another day at office for me. I was sitting at my desk with the headphones on. Waiting for the next call to hit. It was a kind of a quiet day than usual as there were less calls. I was happy because of it. It gave me some time to know the person sitting next to me a little bit more. Usually in a call centre environment, once the calls start hitting, there is no break to it, one after the other, they keep coming and you keep speaking. You go through all kinds of emotions. Sometimes you laugh at the customers, sometimes get irritated, sometimes angry. But all these emotions are just in your head, on call it has to be neutral. This job does test you emotionally. And taking fifty to eighty calls every day is kind of exhausting. And I worked the afternoon shifts. So, when I head back home, most of the Punekars are in deep sleep.
But there is something else happening at the office now a days. From the past four days there is someone sitting in the office watching over all of us. He is our beloved Ganpati. Since his ‘Sthapana’ in our office the environment feels a lot devotional. Every evening between six to eight we start the mandatory ritual of Aarti. Everyone, except few, who are asked to take calls on behalf of others, is present for the Aarti. Our Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters help us with the calls so that we can finish this ritual without much hustle. They made this beautiful statue of Ganpati Ji using paper mesh. Claiming it to be eco-friendly. Though I am sure a tree had to die for this statue to become a reality. What’s more ironic is that our office does have a ‘no paper policy’, to save trees. So we don’t have papers on our desk. All of it was used to make this statue. A beautiful four feet statue.
Anyways, Prasad was delicious. Modak, One of my favourite sweet dishes since childhood. Rest of the day went as usual and I was heading back home after the shift. It was sometime past midnight. Roads were almost empty, but still every now and then huge cargo trucks passed on the highway and few cars and bikes. Though the roads look empty but I am always scared to cross a highway at night. No traffic police, traffic lights are off and no speed limit. Though there is not much difference in the daytime as well. People of my city follow a quote very seriously,” RULES ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN”.
So, I dodged few vehicles and somehow, crossed the road and entered into the vicinity I lived. This place is crowded by bricks and concrete. Houses shops and apartment buildings. Roads are smaller and have many gullies connected on both sides. Which takes me deeper into the place. If you don’t know the routes byheart, you will be lost for sure. But I do remember the roads now. I’ve been here for six months now. Every gully, has its own Mandal and its own Ganpati. Every Idol designed by the taste of the gully’s residents; or the members of a particular Mandal, I would say. Every household in the area contributes a sum of money for all this setup. So, they raise a Stage covered with a tent open on one side. From where the people climb the stage and worship the idol. Take Prasad and leave. The whole stage is decorated and Ganpati idol is also decorated with beautiful clothes and artificial jewellery. This happens almost all day for 10 days till the Idol is taken to submerge in a water body, as a sign of saying goodbye to our beloved God and ask him to come back again next year.
Strange, Isn’t it? Our God comes on a particular date every year and we don’t want to keep him with us for more than 10 days. He leaves by his own will, people say. With a promise to come back next year. But what I see is we pick him up and take out of the stage. For some time, he comes out of the temples for every citizen. Our great Leader, Shri Bal Gangadhar Tilak took this initiative as the depressed section of the society were not allowed in the temples before our country became secular and democratic. But isn’t it democratic now? Why put Ganpati in so much trouble? Why can’t we just go and meet him in the temple where he resides. Well I know I have some strange questions and people of my community will not tolerate them. Answering them is a long shot in itself. Though Being a secular nation, this country still has a long way to go, in order to provide freedom of worship to every individual. Because no law in my country becomes a law when Supreme Court announces it or the Lok Sabha. It becomes a Law when Society accepts it as a law. Which is governed by few powerful groups in our society, and people follow.
Our holy scriptures itself say God resides everywhere. He is Omnipresent. Then Why do we restrict him to a particular location. Why can’t we feel him everywhere? Why do we want to see him? Why not feel him and obey his teachings?
So, I was going into this philosophical mode while heading towards my rented house. A Loving family allowed me to stay on the top floor of their house. I love to stay alone. I just love my own company. Roads are empty and silent. All the Ganpatis are closed for Darshan now. Curtains are down. It’s his resting time. Must have been tired by all the loud music and Bollywood dance numbers. Watching people dance like crazy on those songs. All the requests of a prosperous life coming. His registers would have been filled with these requests. A daunting task for even the best stenographer on the planet. But, I hear something inside. Some guys laughing and cursing. I thought, they must be the keepers. People who protect God. From other people. Yeah, we have those too in my community. I couldn’t quite understand the chatter though. My idiot curious mind wanted me to peek. So, I parked my scooter on the other side of the road. The stage covered half the road, which makes it difficult for the people to commute through the area at peak hours. I went close to the stage and peeked through the curtain.
Some five to six males, two of them were young and three almost middle-aged, were playing cards and drinking. They had disposable plastic glasses filled with booze and a half-finished bottle in the middle. They were sitting in a circle. Eyes red. I don’t know what went inside my head when I saw them. I started feeling hot, my jaw clenched and my muscles tensed and the big fool inside me started shouting on them.
“Aren’t you guys ashamed???”
“Hey, What’s your problem?” One of them replied sternly.
“Right under the foot of God you are drinking and playing bloody cards!!” Righteous me shouted again.
“You do your job buddy. Don’t teach us moral lessons.” Another guy replied with a hint of anger in his town.
I remembered these guys. They were the one who came to my house on a Sunday before Ganesh Chaturthi to ask for donation for the celebration. I had very little money left with me after the saving and sending some at home to my parents. I offered them Fifty rupees and they made me feel ashamed and said everyone is giving 500 or more. I told them I don’t have much, but when you see a group of people showing up at your door looking like rowdies, you get a little intimidated and succumb to fear. It didn’t at all looked like a request for donation. So, I gave them 200, and was left with 200 to sustain for a week before my salary comes in my account once again. I could see the same faces wasting the donation money they collected from the people around, on booze. It actually hurt me a little. Because those 200 rupees would have been very useful for me personally. Watching them getting wasted like this burnt my head from the inside.
“Don’t you find it wrong, wasting people’s money for your own pleasure?”
“we have spent our own money boy. Just shut up and leave or you won’t reach home in one peace.” One of them who looked a bit tall and strong, tried to threaten me.
That statement was a trigger to wake up even a more stupid person inside me.
“you shut your mouth or I will shove that bottle of yours down your throat.” Indirectly I said, ‘come and beat me up now.’
May be the booze kicked in and they all just cursed and pounced on me. To punish me for that audacity. Everything blacked out for some time when the first punch landed on my face. I managed to land one unknowingly on one of them. But all I could feel after that was being punched on my head, jaw, belly and back. Being kicked and falling on the ground. Being kicked again. I just tried to wrap myself for protection but that was a failed attempt. Stings were excruciating. After sometime I just stopped feeling anything and fell unconscious.
When I woke up. I was on the side of the road. Beside my scooter. It was early morning and the sweepers were around and very few more people. None stopped to have a look at me. Probably they misunderstood me for a drunkard. But I was just a beaten-up man. I tried to get up. It was hard and painful. Every inch of my body hurt. But nothing was broken. Thank god. I cannot afford such expenses. I lost a tooth though. The hollow space in my mouth will always remind me of the incident. It can be fixed some other time. What will I do now? I didn’t find it necessary to go to the doctor. They charge a lot nowadays even for diagnosis. A balm would do. Usual home remedy. But I will need a big bottle of balm, as I’ll have to bath in it. Somehow, I got a hold of my scooter’s handle and pulled myself up. So kind of them to throw me near my scooter. Thoughtful. Luckily, I found the keys in my pocket. I started my scooter and rode off. Slowly but I was able to ride. For the first time, I understood the importance of a self-start switch on my scooter. I thanked the automobile company for it. Before leaving I just gave a quick glance towards the stage. The curtains were up. No sign of ardent devotees I met last night. No sign of anything from the incident. There is no point in complaining either. I know nothing will change. All I could see was the smiling idol of Ganpati. Everyone worships you, But, no one understands you or follows you. Maybe we will learn, or maybe not.