An unusual birthday

Today was an eclectic day. Myth and Science, a pleasurable walk in the woods and an unexpected visit to a temple. That last kind of underscores a personal notion that temples beckon. I had no thought of going there but somehow landed outside the orange gates. It’s been nearly two years since I visited this place and the last visit I remember was on a Saturday morning. The pundit had given me a red rose as prasad and I put it in my hair. Those days, I had long tresses and would frequently wear a hibiscus from my garden. I don’t miss the hair but the flowers, occasionally. Later that day, the petals of that rose went into one of my books and remained pressed between its pages.

The trail was a pleasure today unlike the last visit with its drunken visitors. I couldn’t take off my shoes though until I got quite deep into it since the path as well as the interiors were trashed badly. Beer bottles, broken glass, lot of plastic rubbish and so on. It makes me despair for us as a people, this disregard for open spaces, green spaces. But, the woods are special and often lovers of the place clean up after those who wantonly rubbish it. There are a few regulars who love the brown as much.

I’ve missed my daily walks in their magic and music and was glad to get a pocket of time to indulge in ambling and couldn’t resist a little jog too. Today, the wind was from the North West and sounded like the ocean in the treetops. Waves upon waves rising and falling while the branches of the glyricidia rubbed against each other and creaked like old boats. A fragment of a creaky boat ride off the Konkan coast rose in my mind. Added to this mix was the sound of birds and the crunch of my feet on dried leaves. Again memory and its recall, I was reminded of a Canadian autumn many, many months ago and the warm spicy smells of maple and oak leaves. The Eucalyptus trees against the blue skies reminded me of the birches I had seen then.

The woods are peaceful, the people who pass through it, sometimes not so but I like to think that the trees and their whispers leave some of their magic on all those who walk under their shade. On my way back, I drove around to enjoy the sights of the pretty gulmohurs in the neighbourhood. Soon the rains will come and the crimson petals will lie destroyed on the ground, making the prettiest carpets. There was no destination and I cruised along until I found myself outside the temple. I’ve always been an outsider in places of worship, not knowing what is expected in terms of rituals. Hence, the preference for odd hours when they are empty and quiet. There wasn’t anyone else except D who said I should hang on as the pundit was on his way. Tulsi, the dog who loiters around the place was happy to see the old poojari as he unlocked the place and nuzzled against him.

I didn’t have anything with me as an offering but went in anyway and looked at the orange drenched idol of Hanuman. Legend goes that the son of the Wind God asked Sita why she wore vermillion in the parting of her hair and she replied for the love of Ram. So, he emptied a whole load of it on his entire body for that’s how much he adored the avatar of Vishnu. The pundit marked my forehead with the orange tilak and I received a flower as prasad which now sits pressed in a book.

I suppose it was an auspicious visit as today is also Shani’s birthday, Saturn for those who are not familiar. The lame planet is feared but somehow, I’ve never felt the dread that people associate with it. Perhaps, it is ignorance of the complicated Vedic astrology that warns of terrible settling of karmic debts or maybe it is having nothing to lose. While tradition is to offer flowers, fruits, leaves, nuts, seeds, oil etc. in worship, I have often wondered how can one offer things that are not ours to offer. We assume ownership of what grows freely and over the centuries have staked claim to mountains and seas as belonging to people or nations when they existed without title deeds for aeons!

Somehow, it already feels too late for change to really make a difference. It seems like time, Shani’s time is marching us to pay the price for rubbishing our planet, beginning with the current reality of isolation and distancing. Like the renaissance philosopher and astrologer Masilio Ficinno says, “We are subjected to Saturn through leisure, solitude and sickness; through theology, secret philosophy, superstition, magic farming, and through mourning.” In pandemia, people haven’t had the luxury of choosing solitude.

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