A two day trip, my first visit to Calcutta. Ok, alright, Kolkata for those who insist on using current names of streets, squares, cities, countries and people.
To take back my footwear from the stall, I handed over the much soiled token and gave a ten rupee note to the boy handling the exchange. He cribbed about not getting the three rupee charge in exact amount before returning my seven rupees. A girl in dirty clothes and dishevelled hair tugged my kurta sleeve and asked for money. She had a bunch of others behind her. Pressing her case, she said they would all share whatever I gave and have a meal. Then I did what I knew I shouldn’t have done. I handed over a five rupee coin to her and walked out of there briskly. But not before some other begger kids in the vicinity had spotted the Rs 5 transaction. To my dismay, I had a whole troop of kids following me all the way to the parking lot. When I got into the hired taxi, the kids had gheraod the car and continued begging for money. A few kids were talking among themselves about the chances of me actually giving them some more money. Just before the driver got into the car, one of the kids, a girl, said very smartly to the others, “she’s not going to give us anything.” Maybe she saw my expression, the relief on my face when I saw the driver about to get in. Smart kid.
This was at the Dakshineshwar Mandir that is over an hour’s drive away from Kolkata. I reached there at around 5 o’clock in the evening. I queued up at the side door for a view of Kali as the main entrance was crowded with devotees holding on to their flower and other offerings. The idol could not be viewed as the priests were busy with the evening rituals before the public viewing could begin. The inner portion of the temple was covered in a red and gold cloth while the rituals went on inside. People were craning their necks all the time to keep watch on when the cloth would be taken off.
While I waited there, an old woman in a white sari struck up a conversation with one of the temple priests standing on the other side of the iron grill that kept us out of the inner premises of the temple. I couldn’t follow the details as they spoke in Bengali, but the names of the villages they hailed from were exchanged and then they spoke a little more about the conditions in his village. Then, the lady went into a monologue during which, the priest slipped away inside. Unfazed, the lady continued talking, shifting her gaze to me. I listened and pretended to understand. But she caught-on I think, and shifted her attention to another onlooker. A younger lady who wanted to know what was going on inside. My old friend continued – that the idol was being washed with milk and honey and etc. etc.
Suddenly, there was movement inside & the red and gold cloth was taken off, revealing Kali in all her finery. My eyes were riveted by the long red tongue that flowed out of the open mouth of the goddess,the alert large eyes and the fallen demon, crushed at her feet. The place soon got more crowded as devotees rushed to get in. I backed off and left after making a silent mental offering to the goddess for I carried no garland of flowers, nor any sweets for the diety.
This part is still in progress….