Friday, March 23, 2007

She, who provides

Benaras.

Everything I thought it might be, it seemed to be. But who knows... I did not go out much.

Except that one evening, for someone told me that the city's patron goddess is Annapoorna - the grain provider. The goddess of food. And prosperity. But no prosperity or happiness is possible without food, after all.

And I was here to investigate hunger, after all. It was only fitting that I look up the goddess that fills bellies, for someone told me that nobody sleeps hungry in Benaras. Its holiness was built, he said, upon the hunger of those who flocked here, knowing that here, the virtous, the freshly-rid-of-sins were anxious to give.

I wanted to look up this mother-goddess. Perhaps, because it is so hard to understand what has gone wrong - has she stopped providing, she who provides?

I went prepared for security stress. It has been just over a year since the blast at the Sankat Mochan temple and anyway, you get frisked and your bags get searched almost everywhere you go, these days. So, I took nothing but some money and my phone. However, after a half-hour rickshaw ride, a ten rupee bribe to a cop (paid by the rickshaw-puller, without my knowing), and a fifteen minute walk down the narrow Vishwanath lane and reaching the entrance, the police said - 'Phones not allowed'.

And suddenly, the desire to see her was gone. Annapoorna, I'm sure, would understand.

9 comments:

mutant said...

> ... desire to see her was gone.

You have not described why you wanted to carry a phone in the first place? Is it so important to carry one while visiting Annapoorna?

I know a day-care that says at the gate: 'cell-phones not allowed beyond this point'. the message is, if you are coming to visit your kids, focus on them, not some mundane business.

While the request for parting with your phone was formulated in a rude way ("your phone is a danger to our temple, hence throw it away"), Indian temple-goers do similar things all the time, like leaving footwear outside, covering their heads sometimes, etc. I do not like them, hence my limited visits to God's house. However, if you do insist on going to a temple, I do not see how you can avoid complying with some norms.

On a related note, you might have difficulty in finding a reliable person/place to leave your cellphone outside with. That is understandable.

Anonymous said...

Alas! The great victim has once again been victimized!

annie said...

mutant: i did not particularly want to carry a phone. i just do carry a phone everywhere. so does everyone else who has a cell phone. that's the point of having one. as for norms... of course, i comply. or else, i don't go in. there is no other alternative that is worth trying, really.

anonymous: predictably anonymous, eh? have disabled anonymous comments again. wish i didn't have to, but i see no reason why i should have to deal with this sort of comment.

Jay Sun said...

I am never without my phones...both of them...so can understand why you were carrying yours...:)

harneet said...

There are stalls outside the temples who will provide you with a 'free' locker service provided you buy the ridiculously expensive flowers and other pooja essentials off them.

Some of my B&W photographs from Banaras are up here. More, and colored too, if you have time to dig deeper into the 'Places' set.

Mutant said...

@Annie: You were going to a sacred venue and electronics technology is much too advanced today. The guards were doing their job.

Varanasi is a living synthesis of realities separated by centuries e.g., modern research at BHU (on one hand) and the famous hindustani musical events on the shore of Ganga(on the other). Considering you are a journalist, I sincerely hope this blog posting is not a summary of your experiences.

Best wishes.

smriti said...

the bribe would have pushed away the desire to visit Annapoorna...and a bribe that had to paid by a rickshaw-puller puller would definitely have. Do you know why he had to pay the cop? Did you have to reimburse the driver or did he have to forfeit a part of his pay?

Would mutant and annonymous argue that that too was a part of the holy norm?

Mutant said...

@smriti The circumstance of the bribe to the cop is not clear from the posting, so I would not comment on that.

But in general my earlier experiences with temples is that bribes are in fact quite common. Some times the priests force one to do certain pujas/rituals, and it is difficult to deny once you are inside. At other times, one is almost sure to buy flowers/diyas before entering the temple (what are these if not bribes). The whole idea of going to the temple is also based on a certain kind of 'psychological bribe' to a higher authority ("here I am, on each sunday, please take care of me, and I would remain a loyal worshipper").

It is obvious that the author is on an investigative mission (she is not the regular temple-goer), and I fully agree with her freedom in losing the desire to meet with Annapoorna (I have lost the desire many times myself), but I would also point out that the temple-people (whoever they might be) have a right to prevent entry of a certain electronic device inside their place of worship.

Jai_Choorakkot said...

1. agree with mutant that the cops were only doing their job, being Indian cops they have gotten used to projecting power though and do this in the rudest possible way.

Most temples have arrangements for this in a nearby pandal/prasad stall with a reasonable fee not extortionate as others seem to hint.

Regular devotees put up with this, its for their security. Investigative journalists on courtesy calls may take a different view of this.

2. why the rickshaw puller in the first place, is it a comfortable feeling being pulled along by another human being on manual power.

3. After the buildup on the hunger in the city of annapoorna, was expecting more. Hope there is a follow-up post.

regards,
Jai

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