By Neel Anil Panicker

Places of worship are attractive to eternal optimists.

It took all of three weeks and an ardous personal pilgrimage which extended to all of ten temples, eight mosques, six gurudwaras, three churches, and a couple of Parsi temples and even the odd Jewish synagogue for Raghav to come to this realization.

The woman in front is still standing steady and upright like the Rock of Gibralter; her body posture not once slackening. Positioned immediately behind her, Raghav would occasionally catch her turning around and scanning the sea of humanity that snaked behind them, as long as the Nile.

Looking at her cadaverous frame draped in a much used and abused initially off-white but now a dirt-yellow cheap cotton saree; her heavily lined mouse like face scarred with more crisscrossed lines than would show up on a map of the most congested bylanes of Chandni Chowk, and at her eyes__ eyes that were sunk so deep into their sockets that they reminded him of the ever faulty still    overworked elevator in his office building that everybody feared could any moment give way and disappear into the abyss __, Raghav guessed that it had been quite some time since she had entered the hallowed club of septuagenarians.

As the harsh rays of the afternoon sun bore down, refusing to show the slightest of mercies on the human congregation below, and scorched the earth with vengeful rage, much like a mythical dragon spewing fire and brimstones on helpless earthlings, the woman squinted her eyes and scanned the crowd again and again, occasionally dipping her lips into the fast diminishing plastic bottle of water, which Raghav suspected, and rightly so, was contaminated to the core.

In her other hand she held a small wicker bowl, which contained kumkum, a garland of marigold flowers, incense sticks, petals of some yellow coloured flowers whose origin Raghav was unable to decipher, a string of red and yellow threads,  and a very tiny-sized bottle full to its neck with castor oil.

The line moves at a pace so slack that were, Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, here, he would die__if not of exhaustion caused by sheer ennui.

All of a sudden there is a wave of murmur and some pushing and jostling. The resultant effect: the  line moved, albeit barely, though not more than a quarter of an inch.

It was then that he noticed it. Her legs. The woman had no legs! It was just a stump___both her legs, or where they once stood.

She was handicapped from knee down; the wooden contraption fitted onto where her legs once were.

And when she walked, even those bare few inches, it made a creaking noise, and he saw, looking over from where he was, her eyes squinting and her lips constricting as a near agonizing gasp of sheer pain escaped her wafer thin lips as they bit into non-existent teeth.

No legs, no teeth, pushing well into her seventies, old and emaciated, almost at the last leg of her life, and  there she is___ standing upright, gaze unflinching, eyes full of devotion, and a heart still filled with hope and optimism, bearing all with a smile and innocence. In queue since morning, without food for the past four hours and may be more.

And all this hardship and pain only so that she just as countless others who stood patiently braving the elements gets to pay obeisance to her lord, her Ganpati, Lord Vinayaka, the much loved, much worshipped, elephant head God__the God of all good beginnings as also the God who helped mankind tide over all bad happenings.


Watching this deep symbiotic relationship of trust and faith between man and God, Raghav suddenly came to the brute realisation how much of a misfit he was.

Like a bolt of lightning the epiphanic moment him numbed his senses. All of a sudden he felt dizzy. The giddiness continued for some more time and he felt as if his legs were giving way, getting lighter and lighter.

He thought he was about to blank out.

He had to do something and do it fast. Or else, he feared the earth on which he was standing would open up and pull him inside its bowels any moment.

He had to find his inner soul, his peace, his sanity__if he had any hope of survival.

Cursing himself, he turned his back and walked away from the line of worshippers.

Neither this place, the most hallowed Siddhi Vinayaka Temple in the heart of Mumbai__the financial heart beat of India___nor any other place of God anywhere was a place for pessimists like him.


(Chapter 24 of continuing novella A FAIR AFFAIR)

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