As always Nani was on ride duty yesterday evening! Rides at the Kalka Temple which are my grandson's preferred ones. And the all time is the 'jump jump' which is a big inflatable copy of a Disney character. It is also Utpal's all time comfort place
as it has been a constant in his tumultuous life since he was a baby. So it is a place I cannot escape as both my boys love it. The strange thing is that it grows on you once you get past the initial shock as it is a place that aggresses all your senses with a indescribable violence, leaving you gasping for breath. If you are brave enough survive the initial shock and set your apprehensions aside, you are in for an unforgettable experience. The place is magic and grows on you as the squalor you first see surreptitiously gets replaced by the intensity and fervour of the faith of everyone around.
A visit to the Temple can be a family outing. Women dressed in glittering attire, bedecked with jewels, children in their Sunday clothes coming to pay hommage to the Goddess who is not easy to access. Sometimes the wait in the queue can be for hours at end, but no one minds. Strewn along the way are shops selling ritual offerings, but also drink and food and of course toys! After paying obeisance to the Goddess it is time to relax and enjoy: a stop at one of the many eateries offering a varied fare, shopping for religious ware of all kind, from idols to incense; succumbing to the constant tug at your clothes and whining demand and purchasing a toy or stopping at the rides, the options are varied and numerous. Certain days are busier than others.
Amidst all, the visitors are the 'residents' of the Temple. I do not mean the priests but those that have made the temple their home. The ones that society has marginalised and forgotten.
There are the very old and the disabled but also younger men and women as well as children. The temple premisses gives them not only shelter but allows them to live with the dignity they lots for no fault of theirs. They live their life on terms they may not have chosen but have adapted with grace. In the early mornings when I go to the temple to complete my chalisa (40 days), I have never been asked for money but for a cup of tea, a fruit, a meal, clothes..!
Yesterday, when I was 'on duty' at the rides two little girls approached me. They must have been 9 or 10. It is always difficult to guess the right age of One was wearing a worn out municipal school dress. I do not know if she does go to any school. I do not think so. The other girl was wearing a washed out dress of indeterminable colour. Both were bare feet and seemed to belong to the 'resident' community and must have left their posts and gone for a stroll. They stood besides me for a long time. Then one of them mustered up the courage to ask the question they had been dying to: buy us a ride!
Those three little words brought to fore in an instant the terrible reality we are all guilty of: letting down the children of India born on the wrong side of the invisible fence, in spite of all the highfalutin schemes and laws that are so eagerly shoved down our throats by wily politicians. We pay the cesses and levies that are dumped on us in the name of education, health, and what not, never wondering why any child should be begging on the streets, or working in a home or in a tea shop!
All children are children and have the same desires and dreams. Be they rich or poor. Buy us a ride
is a poignant proof of this sad reality.
I did buy them a ride, or rather many rides! I hope that for those few moments they forgot all their woes and laughed their hearts out the way only children can!