kal mandir!

Kal Mandir is Utpal's name for the Kalkaji temple. It is a name he came up with when he was 3 and somehow it never changed. He loves going there and would go everyday if he could. His companion for these sorties is Radhey our three wheeler driver, someone he has known all his life! Radhey is the one who drove him to the hospital on the fateful night he fell into a boiling cauldron. KalMandir is undoubtedly his favourite place.

Sometimes he does go all the way to the temple itself and visits the Deity but what Kal Mandi means to Utpal is the fun rides that he loves. Till last week Kal Mandir was simply a name to me. Popples had often asked me to come with him but to my silly mind the Kalkaji Temple was an overcrowded place that I simply shunned. However the little boy's entreaties finally bore results and last week I too went to Kal Mandir and loved it. I wish I had taken the trip earlier.

 The experience is difficult to describe as it is a medley of sensations but I will give it a go. It was about 11am, a hot and humid day and I was dreading the experience but had to keep my promise to little Utpal. We drove in our three wheeler and entered the parking made for cars but to my utter surprised we were greeted with smiles and hellos. I thought we would be stopped as is always the case when you venture in a poor man's vehicle into parkings but here Utpal and his conveyance seemed to be VIPs! I was a little lost but a little hand firmly took mine and pulled me along. We walked through an alley with shops on either sides: eateries, shops that sold prayer ware, toy stalls, even a photographer's den where you could take your pictures with zany backdrops. The place was filled with incredible energy and fervour. On the way we walked past devotees walking towards the sancto sanctorum some on foot, others crawling or rolling, others even somersaulting. Strangely none of this seemed out of place or crazy. It just seemed normal as everything was tinted with an overpowering spirituality that made it acceptable.

We soon reached what can at best be called rides but is a far cry from anything you can imagine. Six or even rides fight for space in a tiny enclosure. The floor is mud and dust. A few plastic sheets cover the area protecting you as best they can from the heat or rain. Every ride has a wooden pole where the switches are placed and a maze of electric wires criss crosses the area at a little over head hight. A few bulbs light the place giving it a festive air. An elderly lady sits at rickety table at the entrance under the lone fan. She owns the place and that is where you purchase tickets @ 10 Rs a ride. But as I said Utpal is a VIP there and he headed straight for the first ride under the benevolent smile of the owner lady. I could see how much he loved the place. It could confidently compete with the best amusement park in the world. As it was still early and the staff was scarce, Radhey our driver and Utpal's long time pal manned the switches. When Utpal had enough of one he simply said Bas and the ride was stopped. I too was VIP of the day as the kind lady left her chair under the fan for me. It was wonderful watching Utpal have the time of his life.

I must admit that I did recoil in horror at the sight of things at first but then somehow not only got reconciled to what I saw but I must admit quite taken in. It was a happy place in more ways then one. The amusement park, let us call it that, is strategically located on the way to the Temple Deity and thus children accompanying their parents manage to convince the later to stop on the way out after all religious obligations are fulfilled and parents often do as the rides cost very little. At any time of the day your hear whoops of joy and laughter as children and even adults spin and rock to their heart's content while the kind lady owner tries as best she can to keep track of the number of rides everyone enjoys. The place defies every safety rule, even the most lenient, but I can vouch for the safety as Utpal has been an ardent visitor for years now. This little space is where children from the other side of then fence can reclaim for a few moments their right to be children. All in all a visit to this temple is far more than a religious outing. And Kalkaji temple being one of the preferred religious pilgrimage sees people from all walks of life and from all parts of the land. It is somewhat a family outing for all to enjoy with everything on offer: varied food, drinks and even rides.

For Utpal too it is a pilgrimage of sorts. Something he has known all through his disturbed life, a place that has never changed even if all else has. It is his security blanket and comfort place an no matter what a visit there is always welcome and is guaranteed to bring a smile on his face. I was so glad I did finally get over my silly reluctance and accompany him. I must confess I have been there more than once in the past few days.

A visit to Kal Mandir is like being in a time warp. For a few moments you are a tad disoriented as nothing reminds you of the world outside the parking. With my short hair and city gear I looked like an alien but barring a few beggars who sought my attention, no one gave a second look. You were just accepted as you were. A pleasant change from reality. And as you walked the road leading to the Temple you passed rickety structures replete with sounds and smells that reminded you of a village fair. It was exhilarating to say the least. The drums and chants that greeted you transported you into another plane. The fervour was infectious and for an instant you forgot all your woes. What brought people to this place was their faith and you were touched by the atmosphere. This was real India at its best.