I have been travelling to escape from reality perhaps but reality is always round you. You can run but you know what, you cannot escape. I just got back from the Andamans and the scuba and I had to head to an important Hindu ritual just immediately. I had to put the souls of my ancestors to rest. While that sounds forbidding – it is but a passage. I headed to Bodh Gaya to do the Shradh – an act of paying homage to the souls of my parents and my recently deceased maternal grandfather Dr. J.N. Harkauli, who passed away at the age of 93 recently.
My dear friend from school Welham Boys, Anurag Kumar had made all the arrangement’s for me even before I set foot in the city. Bless his soul I think, it has been friends and family that has made my journeys worthwhile. The tickets cost me Rs 10,000, $150 for a return trip. I booked myself into the Royal Residency Hotel for just Rs. 3200, $ 48 a night. It was a painful journey by Air India, my country’s flag carrier late by half an hour and not unusual. I caught a bus for another hour to get off the ground. The airline food was worse than usual and I may be being a tad unreceptive here when I note that the chicken curry had pieces of Paneer in it. Perhaps I was a being picky but yet I feel it is safe to say that Air India is the worst airline in the world followed ore competing closely with Nigeria Airways .The staff was obnoxious and looked like they were doing us a favour by flying us to our destination. I reached Gaya airport in one and a half hour. A delectable Mahindra Bolero jeep was waiting for me at the airport and I was guided to the hotel a million and more thanks to Anurag and his brother Avinash who were my hosts in the city .
I started the next morning sipping tea with two pandits, priests who had been sent to do the shradh ceremony at the Vishnupadh temple. I was taken to the dadi wale baba for his blessing’s before the shradh and he said rather pontifically “you see Anuj, shradh had to be performed with the right ritual’s it,s like making a phone call to your ancestor’s and trying to please them if you dial the wrong number you might get a cross connection, that is why I need the right names and gotras of all your ancestor’s .” stroking his beard and mixing metaphors from modern telephony and ancient arcane wisdom! I could not help but retort “ you mean it’s like in the film PK in which Amir khan is an Alien and he say’s that we human’s are dialling the wrong number to reach GOD , no wonder he can’t hear us.” with a less than respectful chuckle . The baba looked at me as if he was going to rebuke me rather angrily and then I gave him his dakshina which may have made some commercial sense to him and we ventured into the Vishnupadh Temple all enlightened.
After a cold glass of Malai Lassi with badam for Rs 20, about 30 American cents, we ventured into the temple. The Puja Saamagri, the worship essentials as part of Indian Hindu culture, were lain out and the priest’s started chanting the mantras. There were Pind’s created from pan (betel) leaves, flowers , and sattu. I kept offering water to my ancestor’s and chanted the mantra’s that I was asked to repeat by the priests. The ritual was 3 hours long and I kept taking photo breaks in the middle to attempt to capture the essence of the puja, the worship. At the end of the worship we let afloat all the puja saamagri into the river near by . Then we trekked off to the nearest bhojnalaya, restaurant to have a meal. I fed 11 brahmins who thanked and blessed me and is a part of the ritual .
I have always been one for seeing the future not that I believed any of it and I wanted to show my palms (palmistry anyone ?) to the temple priests. “ Pandit ji tell me my future you are a good palmist I am told.” This pandit amazed me when he got four things about me bang on. One, he said I have mole on the side of my stomach – now hoe in heaven’s name could he have known that or was it pure co incidence? Damn you I looked and it was spot on!! . He the mentioned that I had a head injury when I was very young. True again! I had memories of when I had fallen from the balcony of my house when I was all of three. The third he said was that I’ve had a divorce since my wife was having an affair with someone. Oh man this gets crazy by the minute or what since it was so spot on! True again and then he said you have a chakra sign on your left foot, I looked and some thing did seem true again. It was then he said that no one can kill you no matter how hard they try. Ummm – been there done that and true, spot on or so it seems in retrospect!!
My death he insisted would be natural and peaceful. He said I would be travelling abroad extensively from now on (my travelthon has well and truly begun or so I was sure). He did ask me to be cautious about my drinking and take care about my sexual appetite especially the type of woman I consorted with. Good advice any day and this advice resonated with the palmist at the Mah Mo temple at Hong Kong also! He said I would be married soon and also have children!! Hmm – well ok I really want that ! Money will never be a problem for me (praise the lord now as I see poverty all around) and I would always give to people and would never have reason to ever to ask for money from people! He predicted unprecedented gains and fame from now onwards and that I was on the right track and the progress in my life would be fast. Totally totalled – I could not but give him a fat Dakshina.The whole ceremony cost me Rs 15,000, $225, a fair amount but somehow it seemed all inclusive!
Late evening I ventured back into the Bodhi temple and meditated there under the famous Bodhi Tree and took a few pictures but was soon whisked away to my hotel in the evening!