The roads are blocked and traffic has been diverted to make way for His monstrous vehicle. My chariot is neither redolent with flowers nor pulled by devotees. It is yellow and black and manned by khaki clad Shekhar. He navigates his auto through the tiny back alleys that lead up to Mundakanniamman Koil with an ease and agility that belies the three wheelers rounded frame. I am reminded of a plump classmate whose chubbiness never came in the way when she danced. Perhaps it was her extra weight that added grace and to her movements. The elderly, women and children line the streets. The nightgown has usurped the nylon sari as the stay at home uniform of the middle classes. A neck hole, two arm holes, a zipper and a hem is all it takes to turn yards of floral fabric in to shapeless thing called a garment. A beating drum turns my attention to the man they have come to see – the utsavar of a nearby Ramar koil is doing the rounds.
Mundakanniaman’s darbar is full, her famous large rounded eyes glare at the throng of devotees who have come to beg for her favour. Under the shade of a large tree naagars of varying shapes and sizes fashioned out of black stone are anointed in a sticky mixture of milk, kunkumam and manjal. Coloured string, letters and other missives hang off the branches of the tree. A cat laps at a pool of milk, its pink tongue lost in the murky liquid that has pooled at the feet of two intertwined stone snakes. The gathering’s attention is suddenly diverted as Rama’s utsavar pauses outside the temple doors. All that can be seen from where I stand is His gleaming silver bow. It is as though we are all at some sort of heavenly red carpet event where fans fawning over one celebrity are suddenly sidetracked by the dazzling appearance of another. Guiltily they look away from the Utsavar and return their adoring gazes to Amman’s feet. Perhaps they are afraid to look in to her eyes.
It never ceases to amaze me how much these narrow streets contain: overflowing dustbins, Honda City’s that stick out and yet seem at ease parked outside a store that makes dance costumes and a dreadlocked man who looks stoned. Amma points out the tailor who used to make blouses for her in college ‘For Rs. 1.50’ and the crumbling old flat she lived in for a year after my grandfather retired.
Appar Swamy Koil is deserted in comparison. ‘You should come here during Pradosham’ Amma says as she notes my eyes sweeping the forlorn courtyard, her voice a tad defensive. I have been here once before I tell Amma on an equally deserted day for a friend’s Veena recital. I remember sitting with her family, teacher and Nandi for forty minutes as she fumbled her way through Rara Venu Gopala and other songs. Inside a young mother lights earthen lamps before Durga, the latter’s features eroded by time. She tries to control her daughter - a small bundle of powder, cheap silk and saamandhi.
I wonder what her mother is praying for.