Five years ago…
I had delivered my twins in a foreign land. My mum had just left to India. It was only the husband and me who had to manage two infants. Even if one of us had a slight headache, the day would go for a toss.
It was at this time that I was back in the hospital. The episiotomy wound after delivery hadn’t healed. Every time, I had to use the loo, it was painful beyond description. I remember how I used to grit my teeth and bear the pain, amidst howling kids outside of the bathroom. Doctor visit after doctor visit, I complained of the same problem. The husband tried to be as supportive as possible. But then, work came in between to let him help me more often.
The work that came with managing two infants coupled with constant pain made me step out of my agnostic mode. ‘If this pain goes away without giving much trouble, I shall walk up the hill to have a look at you!’ That was the deal I made with Tirupati Balaji.
Six months after delivery, a local anesthesia given procedure, leaving the twins in the care of a frightened neighbour and some such drama later, I was well. And, my sanity regained.
A few days ago…
A big batch of seven adults and two kids in tow board an Innova and off we go to fulfill my deal. Of the nine, only three of us decide to climb the hill. Me, ‘cos of that minute of insanity and my brother and husband, to give me company.
Climbing up the Tirmala is an experience by itself. This is my second such climb. Bare feet. Counting down to the destination. Enjoying the scenery. It is such a liberating experience. It is one place where passers by become known people by a sheer glance. It binds people by purpose; the purpose being to climb the hill. A nod; a glance; a smile; a gesture – all these connect you with the other.
How old is your daughter, I ask a father trying to maneuver two children on the trot. Two, comes the reply. I am stunned. I don’t know whether to appreciate the faith or to mock at it.
Do not climb fast. Go slow. Step after step. You’d not pant if you do so. And, you can reach faster. An old aunty’s sane advice to me. I smile at her and nod, not knowing a word of the language she speaks in but understanding the concern in her voice.
A newly wed couple walk up hand in hand.
A man is climbing on his well insulated knees.
A father smilingly screams at his ten-twelve year old daughter to stop running. I don’t know who to accompany; your mum who walks so slow or you, who is running like this. Go slow, I say!
An old auntie has a big bowl of sindoor which she painstakingly bends down to put on each step. There are 3550 steps in total. This faith overwhelms me. I keep asking myself if I am the odd (wo)man out with skepticism written on me all over.
The three of us enjoy ourselves throughout the climb. Lemon salt soda. Water melons. Pineapples. Kaara pori. Groundnuts. Cucumber. Masala milk. We stop every time we something new; to eat. When we finally finish the climb in over three hours, I am more relieved than exhausted. And, yet a part of the me misses the experience.
While the climb forms a part of the adventure, a more adventurous adventure awaits us the next day; in the form of darshan. We wake up at 3.30 in the morning, finish our morning rituals to stand in the 300Re – queue at five sharp. People of all walks of life surround us. God, has after all given enough money at least to have a glimpse at Him.
The queue moves at snail’s pace. People scramble through the crowd. Hitting and missing and screaming et all. At various moments, I am forced to wonder at the futility of my vow. Like this. There are four lines in the queue. Our family of eight are standing on the extreme right. The children who’ve been waiting for almost three hours now are getting restless. To have some fun, they go between us like a train ‘cos the queue is not moving. By mistake, Kuttan’s hand brushes against a nearby lady. She starts screaming. Hey Chotu.. Will you not stand quietly? I get wild. I promise my son didn’t hit her; his hand by mistake just touched that lady. I scream. She screams in return. There you go.. I forget that this is a worship place.
After close to four and a half hours of wait, we’ve come close to the deity. The last fifteen minutes are the worst nightmare. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve visited this place. You don’t need to move; the crowd by themselves will push you through. By the time you reach the deity, you’d have lost the purpose behind the five hour long wait. You’d rather wish to move out of the sanctum than to acknowledge the fact that you are actually invoking the almighty.
There is an immense sense of relief once you are out of the crowd. A peace that you couldn’t experience in front of Him. May be, it is for this, that crowds throng the place.
I sit down and think why I had to put myself and others through so much trauma. Particularly, my kids who were so distressed with the wait for the God. Is it really worth it, I keep asking myself. And, I know the answer.
I attribute a lot of this mindset of mine to my growing up days. Where I’ve seen family members strike deals with Gods very often. Although I try to be as agnostic (to the extent of being atheist) as possible, testing times see me give in. Like the episiotomy scare.
It is not just the faith, even some silly superstitions seem to play at the back of my mind even though I know they are just worthless. The Rahu-kaalam, for instance. We (as in, the husband and me) never think of these timings before we step out of the house et all. My children are thankfully not aware of this. The mind, for whatever it is worth, knows that this Rahu kalam is such a silly thing, by experience.
When I had to submit the application form for my CA final exams, due to some signature, it got delayed to the last day of submission. That last day was a Tuesday; an ashtami and I submitted the form bang in the middle of Rahu kaalam. All the three things mentioned here are considered inauspicious for God-knows-why! And yet, I cleared the exams that attempt. Which goes to prove that these are just silly superstitions. And, yet there are times when this plays in the background. Sigh.
We (the husband and me) are sandwiched between perfect logic and staunch faith. We are not able to give up on either. What this trip taught me was to not put our children through similar situations too. It is better to leave them to decide what they wish to follow. It is up to them choose their faith or the lack of it. Our duty, as parents, just stops with educating them in the right way and not impose our faiths (or non-faiths) on them. Only time will tell if we were able to accomplish it.