Can you call a place of religious worship as a favorite haunt ? Well for me, it has been one for over a decade now. From what I hear from people, the temple is many things to many people : comfort, solace, adobe of the almighty, money making machine etc. depending on who you are talking to. Personally for me, it has held a strange charm by being an island of serenity amidst bustling chaos. Perhaps it also explains why a group of us make a trip to this place which is a good six hours drive and do an overnight stay there every so often.
The rituals at the temple can go well past 10 PM and are a treat for the eyes and ears. There is the crowd all around you, constantly moving, talking in a multitude of tongues and dialects and going about the business of devotion fully in earnest. If you were to enter the temple past 7 or 8 in the evening then amidst all this din, standing as still as rocks and seemingly unaffected by all this you will find three or more elephants getting all ready to be decked up for the evening’s procession. So all considered it is a jolly festive atmosphere and even after being someone who hates crowds, I have grown accustomed to all this over the years. Mostly the visits are uneventful affairs and it is a clockwork of visit temple-return home. But then life has this habit of throwing a curve-ball or two at you when you least expect it and that was how my eyes fell upon this girl while at the temple !
Without resorting to the use of flowery language, I can say that I was spellbound. It wasn’t that she was drop dead gorgeous or anything but that little devil of infatuation was doing a tap dance atop my head and she appeared to be dazzling in front of my eyes. Dressed in a plain Kerala sari with a black border and a matching blouse, she had around her a simple elegance which not many others in the crowd had or so it appeared to me. Her hair was cut short coming to just below the nape of her neck but what held me in thrall had very little to do with the rest of her anatomy. It was her eyes ! While it was true that hundreds of oil lamps were aglow around us, her eyes seemed to catch most of the radiance and subtly making her eyes glow too. There was something surreal about her eyes that made me seek her out in the crowd…for just one more glimpse of those eyes.
My mind was in a clamor with the irrational part screaming : Go, damn you ! Talk to her. Think of this – will you ever see her again ? Talk to her and the logical part saying with deadpan certainty : Don’t you do it bud .If she shrugs and walks away, imagine the embarrassment ! As always and like good cowards everywhere, I let the rational part win the argument and stood back transfixed by her eyes. Egged on by my friend, I tried to find ways to stay a little distance away from her in the crowd while always keeping her in my view. Talk about creative stalking methods ! The lamps around the sanctum were being lit by the devotees and I ( who never lights a lamp at home even at the threat of expulsion !) ran around trying to help her in the process. You can anticipate well and clearly enough that she did not acknowledge the existence of such a life form around her periphery of vision. But hey, what is life without swallowing a few such bitter pills.
So on we go to the next part of the evening, where the procession starts up in the temple. During this, an idol of the God rides atop an elephant and accompanied by devotees, music and other elephants goes for a ritual stroll around the sanctum. Habit has made me stand with eyes closed and head bowed while this is going on. When the crowd gets a tad too much and people stand by your elbow, you get that unpleasant feeling of being boxed in and so it was today too. Feeling the pressure of someone leaning against my arm, I opened my eyes in irritation to see that it was the girl standing right next to me with her eyes rapt on the idol ! It took me approximately three to four minutes to pick my lower jaw up from the floor and to regain my composure by which time she had vanished into the crowd with her friends.
Wait wait, it does not end here for there was one more scene to play out. Right on dot of the procession ending, rain fell in a sudden downpour. It was one of those inexplicable feats of nature which makes weather more untrustworthy than mankind itself. Running for shade, who do I run into ? No second guesses there for I stood right next to the girl and her friends. If at that night, a three horned goat wearing a pinstriped suit and driving a Tesla Roadster were to materialize before me I would have believed the goat on the spot and even gone out for a drink with him. It is not every day that you get smothered with so many coincidences, right ?
It is quite anti-climatic to say that the story ends here. It is like one of those silent movies of yesteryear with just action and not a single spoken word. But for me, they remain fresh on my mind even after all these months. When I think of the incident, a lot many questions tumble out of my minds closet with the most prominent one being : will I see you again ?