How Foolish And Gullible Are People To Bow And Empty Their Pockets Into A Stall (aka Temple) That Just Came Up
India is a strange country but more stranger are its people.
The old towns and villages have their own gods and those gods have their own homes aka temples in this country. It’s an established order. The temples have their annual anniversaries, gods go to jungle tours, river bathing, to meet other gods in other temples; all on the decorated vehicles pulled by the ever-growing tribe of humans. But that’s in old towns and villages. What happens in newly built cities? The old temples I have visited have their own stories, how they came into being. The stories with myths and magic. If the building isn’t very old then there would be someone with a mystic dream in which certain god comes into their dream and throws in his/her wish (or rather a command) to have an abode of his own in that village. And in most cases, these stories are highly unverifiable (of course, what did you expect? — peer-reviewed theories?). It’s not my desire to find the god himself (or herself!) but how does a construction of a temple starts, what is the trigger and more importantly how does it appeal to general masses. Why people flock like sheep to a structure built from same concrete and stones our houses are built in. Mind you! For people flocking to them, this isn’t just any structure built in stone and concrete but a special one. I’m no historian or researcher with the budget to explore anything whose story runs into centuries or even decades. So my desire to find an answer to this age-old question had stayed unfulfilled for long, until now.
Recently, I happened to find one such small temple (but hey! That’s how they start. First, someone raises a small structure and as people walk in day-in-and-day-out, money flows in too and one fine day comes up the big structure we adore, and gradually enters into history books and collective conscience). I had moved to this new town adjacent to an old city of Pune, India a few months back. The town I’m in, for most of its part had seen human-made structures and huge inflow of humans themselves since recently. And as people flow in and build their own cities and societies, they also build their own temples and shrines. Pune’s famous Magarpatta city has its own small temple in its premises which many of residents visit and pray with folded hands and that’s alright. I mean, no harm or ridicule. And mostly, in such big man-made closed cities (or gated societies), they build these shrines for its residents who have come from far-away places to feel home-like at their new place. These are not the temples that start small and go big. These remain their humble size in all their existence. But what I’m going to tell you isn’t about one such temple.
Some blocks away from where I usually go to have my evening snacks is a road lined with apartments on both sides and some shops wherever there is space to have one. The road has a park on one side and opposite to it lies a line of shops selling all necessary things people living in nearby apartments might require. There is meat shop, a vegetable vendor, stationary, cake shop, hardware and rest. Looks like, one stall was missing.
The key to successful business is, to know people’s need, their cravings and exploit it when you see it fit and before someone else does. For months that I was here, I had not seen a single god’s home around. Few kilometers and you might find one but not in the immediate vicinity. Certainly not at this prime spot. Every temple that’s built on a hill, at the riverside or any remote place, has a herculean task to attract devotees. People do take such risks and build structures, and then attract masses but here, was an opportunity to do otherwise. There was already a place with the teeming crowd. A gullible crowd waiting for its god. And the world is in no short supply of people waiting to pounce on an opportunity to fool the gullible.
In the long line of shops that were teeming with necessities sea of people living nearby might require, also had a quite spot unoccupied. A perfect spot lying vacant in the middle of the line of shops and just facing a circle where four roads came crashing. People then erected a tin sheet roof for people’s entry and tiled the muddy floor with cement and concrete tiles that otherwise commonly lined the footpath. The tiled floor now has steel barricades with two rows — for entry and exit. The rows start at the corner of road and end at a horizontal steel bar that also touches a not-so-easily-ignorable box of steel — donation box (a necessity in any god’s home). And then, of course, there is a statue of a popular saint who all his life begged on streets of Shirdi for his daily needs and whatever he acquired, he shared it with other people who were in need like him — Sai Baba. Ironic. I had long wondered why newly built cities/towns, almost all of them have a temple of Sai Baba and not the traditional gods. I have seen this in a newly built town at the outside perimeter of Bangalore too. The answer again lies in the people. The people that habitat a new town come from diverse parts of a nation with a different set of god’s. Bengalis may like Durga Maa more, Rajasthanis lord Krishna, Tamilians Murugan, Maharashtrians Ganesha, etc but Sai Baba has a universal appeal. Add to it, even Muslims have their own attraction to Sai Baba. They might not visit the temple often but universal appeal helps.
Anyhow, I saw this new temple or stall (call it as per your beliefs) while having my weekly pani-puri at opposite side of the road. It was unmissable for the lighting and people lining up but also for the loud voice their soundbox was creating. A nuisance of course that Indians have grown to ignore at large. Or we notice it only when it comes from an edifice of another religion not practiced at our home. I asked the pani-puri guy, how long is it since this structure first came into being? “I’m seeing it since 20 days,” was his reply. I for one can vouch it is no more than a month’s old. But the people lining up would make you believe it’s in existence since time unknown. It baffles me how foolish people can be to line up there as if the statue there which is available in any shop nearby could have some divine power that would grace them as soon as they bow their head and empty their pockets into in-their-face-donation-box. It really really astonishes me how we have evolved from apes to sapiens only to end up believing in this sort of shit.
Many would opinionate that Indians are God-loving people but if you notice you will find out that we are not God-loving but God-fearing people. Most of our actions with respect to god are out of fear of repercussions than out of love to whatever god is. This is also true for most believers across the globe. Let us for a moment believe that God exists (!?) but should he (wonder why it’s always he) then be feared or loved? We go to temples to pray, bow at roadside temples and gods in open, under trees, under sheds without even giving it a thought that few of this could be work of conmen. We fear to question him, his ways, his books, ideas. We fear our questions might enrage the god, they might make him angry. In fact, the preaching of most of the babas (men/women in holy uniform) is full of fear-mongering — you do this and this will happen, you ask this and this might befall on you. And out of fear, without question or thought, we believe everything even if it goes against our rational reasoning, again out-of-fear. It is as if, the all-knowing god, surveillance system of highest order, is no ordinary men but some sort of tinpot dictator worried of slightest distractions from what he intends his followers to be. If he is indeed the tinpot dictator then like other dictators in annals of human history, he needs to be plucked out from his high pedestal. The time we spend in churches, mosques, temples and other sites can be put to better use than standing there, bowing down and submitting ourselves to whatever it is we have evolved into believing for who-knows-what-reason.
“Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man…living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.”