Today, people are killed for allegedly desecrating books. Symbols have become more valuable than human life. And the Gods continue to maintain their sangfroid. As a peasant remarked to Maxim Gorky "Man has learnt to swim like a fish, to fly like a bird - but when will he learn to walk on earth like a man??"
Monday, 24 December 2012
Tell me, Oh Khuda...
When the CMP (Corps of Military Police) Centre & School was shifted from the sleepy hamlet of Faizabad in UP to the bustling metropolis of Bangalore in the late seventies, there were naturally whoops of joy all around. This was not, however, without a twinge of regret. The grand and opulent Centre Mandir, which had acquired the status of a local landmark of sorts in Faizabad and nearby Ayodhya, would have to be left behind. But Bangalore was Bangalore – the fastest growing city in the subcontinent – and arguably the best city in the country (after my Poona, of course), so this seemed a small price to pay – if at all.
The Centre Commandant was a true Infantry soldier, complete with handle bar moustache and an IQ that struggled to reach double figures. One of his quirks (and there were quite a few, believe me – he believed he could cure any ailment by running a magnetic device over the patient’s photograph – even if the patient happened to be a continent away!) was his longing for the old mandir. He was convinced that by abandoning it for the city lights of Bangalore, the Centre had incurred the wrath of the Gods! So he decided to re-build an equally grand temple at Bangalore.
Idols in pristine marble were ordered from his home state of Rajasthan. These landed up at Bangalore about a few weeks before the structure was completed, so they had be stored somewhere till their `grand home’ was ready. A derelict barrack close by was being used for dumping all the construction material, as well as some of the debris from the structure. It was convenient, so room in this barrack was duly made for the idols. For a while, they stood patiently among sacks of cement, iron rods and wooden planks, while awaiting their move to more grand circumstances.
All this while, the `working parties’ trooped in and out of the barrack, in size-16 ammunition boots, sometimes carrying stuff away, sometimes dumping debris, always raising plumes of dust. The idols bore all this movement, noise and dust with the stoic sangfroid that Hindu Gods are so well known for.
When the D-Day arrived, the idols were duly dusted, even washed, and carried ceremoniously to their respective `thrones’. A spiritual `baba’ of sorts was summoned to carry out the installation ceremony – the `sthapna’. The patience of the idols had been duly rewarded, and lo and behold – they who had only heard the stomping of ammunition boots till a few hours ago, now couldn’t be approached unless one removed all forms of footwear first. They who had smiled upon unruly soldiers swapping risqué one liners, now had the same soldiers reciting the gayatri mantra. All in a matter of a few hours!
At what precise moment had the idols become divine, I wondered. What had changed so suddenly? The `sthapna' ceremony? A few Sanskrit shlokas recited as desi ghee was poured over a hawan fire? Faith is truly a strange thing. I shook my head ruefully.
An aside here. I commanded a Signal Regiment in hard field in Nagaland. My Corps Commander was the redoubtable General Nanavatty, who like all Parsis was an absolute gem. As I took him around my unit, he was awe struck on seeing my OR Messes (lungars). I had set up bars in each of them, which functioned exactly like the Officers’ Mess bars – liquor was served every day, and the God-awful `Rum Issue Days’ had been junked. He was pleasantly surprised to learn that this had, in fact, reduced the overall consumption of liquor in the unit! However, on seeing the ramshackle state of my Unit Mandir, he asked why I had not lavished as much attention to that barrack. “Sir”, I told him, “if someone really wants to pray, he can do so even while sitting under a tree! Let me focus on the material rather than the spiritual needs of my men first!” Only his stiff-upper-lip upbringing prevented him from actually hugging me!