So this happened.
Just when I absolutely need to be strong and healthy and jumping half-way across the city because I want to, and because my job demands it; I’ve been miserably ill. It’s one thing after the other, and none of it pleasant.
With my health the way it is, I’ve reached a point in life where I will try anything once. Short of scary, physical adventure type things, or Ayurveda, or voodoo, or sleeping with some random person I don’t find hot. There, I draw the line. In January when I met my priest/astrologer Uncle to find out if I were dying (I did mean it when I said I would try anything once), he assured me my death wasn’t imminent and suggested I go visit a temple every Monday and Thursday. He knows I don’t do God anymore so he said, ‘Go there at least for the positive vibration. Spend five minutes there. You need to calm down. You will feel better, eventually. Try a Shiva temple because those days are favourable to Lord Shiva.’
Today while working from home, I suddenly realised it was a Thursday and I told my mom we must try the temple thing. I promptly showered, got dressed in a sleeveless salwar kameez, and left for the temple. This, when I ought to have curled up with Mr. Plum.
I was feeling beautiful. I studied a little bit of French today, and had a charming conversation with an author I adore, and life was generally looking up. I’ve also taken to frequently telling myself what a sexy queen I am. It helps occasionally.
Anyway, today, my mom and I went to the Shiva temple in Mahadevapura opposite the Phoenix Market City.
And just as my Uncle suggested, I stood inside for two minutes and did what I absolutely love in a temple. I smeared my forehead with the kumkum and felt virtuous like those 70s Hindi movie wives who wore maang ka sindoor and sang lovely songs for their husbands who were usually the heroes; before they were kidnapped, or before they lost a baby, or found out their husband was cheating on them.
It was utterly fabulous, the idea, and so I continued being happy.
Then we stood uncertainly wondering if the priest would give us any prasada. He didn’t. Prasada being another temple tradition I love because it’s usually sweet and it usually tastes divine, quite literally.
Just then the older priest behind me mumbled something. I looked at him thinking he was telling me how long before I got the prasada and he said it louder again, ‘Tie your hair’ in Kannada. The other priest, his younger brother, who was on the other side of the temple, explained in English, ‘Hair. Tie.’ I just glared at both of them and decided peace was out.
My mom and I walked out of the temple.
The idea was to buy groceries on the way so I was walking ahead, pissed as ever, and telling my mom, ‘This is what will happen to the country if a Modi type person comes in to power. They will ask all of us to tie our hair when we go to malls.’ Such Modi-outbursts come with seeing how the Modi fellows troll all over the internet and spout utter half-wittisms.
And I realised the priest and I needed to have a talk.
So I walked back though my mom kept asking me not to.
And let me assure you, my Kannada when I am incensed is positively eloquent. Okay, maybe there is an accent, but the words flow.
So I went up peacefully enough to the older priest guy and told him softly, respectfully, and politely, ‘Listen Sir, I don’t think you should tell people how to dress when they come to a temple, unless you personally heard it from God. And if you did hear it from God, it would be pretty hard to prove, so I suggest you just don’t say such things. Thank you.’
I swear I would have walked out. But priest decided that he must show who-da-man is and started screaming at me. ‘You listen to me. You will listen to me.’
And that’s when I decided to do paisawasool drama and screamed back saying, ‘No. I heard you. Now you listen to me. Don’t presume to tell people there is a dress code in a temple.’
At which he said, ‘There is a dress code in the temple. I cannot do the puja wearing pants.’
‘You work here, and if that’s what priests decide to wear, then, that’s what you will wear. So don’t use that logic with me. You have no right to tell me how to dress to a temple. Today, it’s hair; tomorrow it will be sleeveless clothes; day after you will say no salwar kameez; and a day later that we must wear only saris. When will it stop, then?’
‘No, no. That we won’t say. But you cannot come to the temple with your hair loose, or in a nightie, or short things.’
‘Okay, I don’t think a God cares about all that, but if that’s what your God is all about, then, you are welcome to him.’
At which point, the younger priest wanting to be peace-maker said, ‘No, no, don’t say your God like that. He’s your God too’ which is what I was waiting for and seized on immediately.
‘Yes, exactly. This is my God too. I, too, have a relationship with this God and I know he won’t care if my hair is untied or what clothes I am wearing. I came here for peace, I even found it. Till you, people of God, ruined it for me. And that’s not done. That is wrong.’
At this my mother interjected, ‘We never come to temples anymore. Today, she had agreed to. And you had to go ruin it, why must you speak to people like this?’
Older priest looked at my salwaar clad mom with hair tied. ‘Is this your mother?’
‘Yes, she is.’
‘Look at her, look at how she is dressed. Why can you not be like your mother? I even heard her telling you not to come back. But you had to do this, no?’
I showed him my swollen, arthritic fingers. I said, ‘Look at this. My palm. None of my five fingers look alike. God made it so that even our fingers aren’t alike. And you want me to become like my mom? Why would I? God made me the way I am. And I will tell you why I came back. I came back because this is wrong. What you are saying and doing is wrong. Especially because it is a temple and people come here for peace. And you are ruining it.’
‘You are wrong but I will forget it and excuse you.’
‘Excuse me? There is nothing for you to excuse. God needs to excuse you for ruining my peace in His name. You have no right to tell any woman how she must or must not dress.’
‘I have every right to say so.’
‘No, you don’t. And this shows how wrong you are. But if you are so desperate about telling women how to dress, do it to your own women in your house. And if you are lucky, they might listen. Don’t tell me. Or anyone else like you did to me today, that’s all I ask.’
At which he pulled the Brahmin card. ‘People like you don’t know, but we Brahmins know these things. Anyway, I will excuse you.’
At which I pulled my Brahmin card, and was he done in! Well, what’s the point of being a mixed breed if you don’t mix and match?
‘Ha!’ I said. I actually said, ‘Ha!’ Like that. With an exclamation. ‘Please, my Uncles have temples in Rajajinagar and Basavangudi, and they are priests and astrologers too, and I have seen them at work and they never tell anyone how to dress. So, please, don’t tell me I won’t know because I am not Brahmin. Ha!’
And I walked out.
And by God, was my Uncle ever right! I felt like a fucking million bucks.
So like that.