By Satish Purohit
We walk the 30-odd kilometre from the Life Positive office to Mumbai`s popular Siddhivinayak Ganesh temple with thousands of devotees.
I smiled when the swarm of mosquitoes swam around my face as I opened the door of my home that morning. It was quarter past four and I was leaving my home in suburban Mira Road for the Life Positive office in Goregaon, Mumbai. This is where my walk to the Siddhivinayak Ganesh temple in Dadar was to begin. I remembered a recent article by our columnist Chitra Jha who concludes that mosquitoes exist to remind us to live in the present.
One mosquito was all it took to give Chitra an epiphany. I smiled because it dawned on me that all I get from thousands of mosquitoes in my neighbourhood is mosquito bite.
Out on the road in the soon-to-end darkness, I shivered as the cold breeze touched my hair, which was wet from my cold water bath. Before I set out I had lit a diya at the family shrine and prayed for strength to walk the 30-odd kilometres to the temple.
In the autorickshaw to the railway station, I remind myself that the Upanishads say the path is narrow as a razor’s edge. At 105 kg, I would need all the help on my long walk that I could muster. I was walking the road taken by two lakh devotees every Tuesday, several thousand among who walk around 30 kilometres from their homes to the temple. Some of them do it barefoot. From film stars keen on scoring big at the box office to sports icons expressing gratitude for a recent victory and ordinary folks like me, Siddhivinayak attracts devotees across Mumbai and its suburbs and the day I chose for my walk was no different.
This was not the first time I was doing the walk. Ten years ago, when I was in college, I had walked to the temple from suburban Borivali to Dadar – the longest I have ever taken in my life. I never stayed out late at night and walking on the road that night was as close as I ever got to experiencing nightlife. There was Navaratri but the crowds and the loud speakers gave the experience a different texture.
After the sun sets, roads, even the ones you take every day, appear in a new light. The roads are empty. It is cooler and the most ordinary of roads appear magical, when they stand silent in the night under pale yellow streetlights. While my first walk was done on a lark, this time I had wishes that I wanted the Lord to fulfil. I want Life Positive to attract more advertisements and the circulation to shoot northwards like mad.
All the passengers in the train were snoozing except one man who was chanting something under his breath. It is a strange, almost disorienting experience, for someone who commutes during the rush hours in Mumbai’s trains to enter a nearly empty local train. Thirty minutes later, I reached the Life Positive office only to discover that I had forgotten the keys. I had wanted to offer flowers at our little shrine that housed Ganesh, Lakshmi Saraswati and Jesus Christ, before setting out on my padayatra.
Starting the walk
Disappointed, I hit the road. The flowers went to a roadside shrine. The city was stirring to life. Milkmen pedalled furiously, their metal cans clattering away, pujaris dressed in dhotis were cleaning the small wayside shrines of Ganesh, Hanuman and Devi. Children with oil on their heads and sleep lingering on their scrubbed faces waited for school buses with their parents. Housewives standing by the roadside holding their steaming chais with fingers of both hands.
Two hours of walking and I reached Andheri. As the sound of an azaan from a mosque rent the air, I felt hunger pangs. I looked around me and saw some pilgrim-walkers who plodded on stolidly. Most, I was aware, don’t let food or drink pass their lips till they are done with the darshan. They are made of sterner stuff. It was still cold and I saw jalebis being dipped in sugar syrup at a shop called Sharma Dairy Farm. I had some and washed it all down with some milk before continuing with my journey.
I had not even walked 20 per cent of the journey and my feet were already sore. About an-hour-and-a-half later, there was some light. By the time I reached Bandra, home to film stars and my half-way mark, I got what athletes call second wind. My feet were sore but I felt stronger. It was not difficult I told myself, I just had to keep walking. I decided to stop by Bandra lake for a few minutes.
|You are the speaker. You are the listener. You are the giver. You are the sustainer. – Ganesh Upanishad|
Brush with violence
When I passed the Sufi Makhdoom Mahimi’s dargah and the St Michael’s Church in Mahim, I saw some of the walkers close their eyes and hold their hands to their hearts.
A few minutes earlier, at Mahim bridge, I was reminded of the first time I walked that road. We narrowly escaped getting beaten up by a group of drunkards on that stretch. My friend had slapped a boy in the group after he walked into my friend. A larger group of about 10 that, unseen to us, had been following them pounced on us. There was some pushing and someone pulled at my shirt and I lost some buttons. I fell and bruised my knee. Luckily, a police patrol van had appeared on the scene and rescued us.
A few hundred metres down the road, I saw a group of tired teens plodding wearily. “We started out from Kandivli at 9.30 pm,” said one boy in the group. “I have done it dozens of time but these two are doing it for the first time. They got tired and we had to stop at too many places. The last time I did the walk I had reached the temple by this time.”
So what made him do the walk ‘dozens of times’?
“No reason. Just for darshan,” he said.
Not one of the several people I spoke to had a special reason for walking as much as over 40 km in some cases and forsaking sleep for a darshan at the temple.
Parag Mantora (21), who is studying to be a chartered accountant, was part of a group of friends and their cousins walking to the temple. The group walks 35-odd kilometres from Malad to Prabhadevi every Monday night. The youngest member in the group, Aniket Sharma (12), was, however, doing it for the first time. “We do it every week. I have been walking to Siddhivinayak for some years now. I came under a moving truck when I was in Std X and my legs were crushed rather badly. I not only survived the accident but also came back on my feet after an operation. The doctor told me that he had never seen anyone hurt as badly as me escape amputation. He said I was lucky. I like to believe Bappa had something to do with it,” says Parag.
Another group of youngsters, all engineering students, had also walked from distant Malad. “The walk is something we do because we like to. There is nothing more to it,” explained Anish Maheshwari (20), a member in the group.
Thanks to my four halts, I reached quite late – it was 10 am. Every devotee was frisked by armed policemen. A couple of minutes later, I was facing the deity. The image covered with saffron paste had been bathed, dressed and adorned. There was that wonderful temple smell – part flower, part incense and part burning oil and ghee. And, of course, there were the devotees, their faces full of love for the presence in the temple – their fruit at the end of the long walk. I saw a pretty little girl seated on the steps that encircle the garbha-griha of the temple, her eyes closed, her face absorbed in the chanting, and had a catch in my throat.
Looking back, I think what I experienced on both my walks was pilgrimage in its essence. A devotee walking from his shelter to the house of God. It was the closest a Ganesh devotee in Mumbai comes to making a pilgrimage without leaving the city.
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