It was surprising! The dude from Delhi, on a visit to Mumbai, didn't want to do the usual dude stuff..he wanted to go to a temple (the famous one where stars go barefooted). "So, would I go with him?" he asked. He assumed I must be familiar with the ins and outs of the place.
Occasionally religious Ulp..I said sheepishly, "I have never been there." Now it was his turn to be astonished. “What..you haven't been to this temple or to any other, in Mumbai?”. This was true except that, “I’d visited one, maybe many years ago,” I added. I do go to the one in Juhu to eat the fabulous thali though. When I was growing up, religion of the pooja-paath variety wasn't such a big thing. Nobody in the family or in the small circle of friends went to temples or had any rituals at home.
A couple of neighbours used to celebrate Ganpati by bringing the idol home and there was an occasional pooja or satsang around the building, where we went to eat prasad, not to pray.
Only in need: Come exam time..one thought a bit about God and did the quick "Hello God, please help..thank you," prayer before glancing at the question paper, but that was just about all the interaction there was with God.
Out of curiosity I did go to churches, mosques and temples of tourist interest in Kolhapur, Puri, Dwarka, Madurai and Nashik, to name a few, but never learnt any prayers and didn't know any rituals.
When I was growing up, praying was uncool. I thought it was something old people did, though my grandfather never prayed, and there was no precedent that I knew of.
My relationship with God was personal. Occasionally, I wondered if there was a God, and sometimes unconsciously said "Ya allah" or "Jesus" or "Hey Bhagwan" when in trouble..someone would listen.
Cool business: Anyway, cut to 2007. Feeling like a big time sinner, I went for the first time to the famous Mumbai temple. “Oh hey, there's the idol on the TV monitor. You had darshan..now we can go,” I said.
I was hopping on my toes, because our shoes had been deposited at the stand in exchange for a token.The dude looked shocked. “No..I want to do it properly,” he snapped. So we had our bags checked, stood in queue under the watchful frowns of security guys, were pushed into the tiny space were the idol was, the basket of offerings rudely snatched, and someone shouting,
"Jaldi karo, aage jao,” like they do in a crowded BEST bus.
Happiness: All this, while I was observing the crowd of devotees and there were as many young jeans and tees and branded shirt types as there were old people and the poor in shabby clothes. Very democratic, I observed.
Then as quickly as we had been pushed in, we were pushed out, though in the melee, the dude actually did a proper bowed down pranaam. “Watch your pocket,” I muttered.
He looked happy afterwards. “Wait till I tell everyone at home I came to the temple. Ain't it cool?” he said. I think, while I wasn't looking, the definition of cool had changed. Hello God, please help me to be cool too.