The Street of the Small Gods


The street of the small gods, is a curious place. Hedged between a huge banyan tree and lines of trucks. There, in house after house, bestowing blessings from their god shops; sit two streets lined with room-temples.

And exquisite gods! Clean, shining, colourful; and bathed in golden light.

As we pass by quite unintentionally, wave upon wave of longings stream by. It is quite tangible, this sublimation; this clinging, powerful belief, in the phantasms of imagined divinity. Or
are they man’s reciprocal imagination manifested, and so, real?

—What is the self, but a chimera to be given up? What are these endless circles? “I don’t want, I want. Let us be free! Deliver us from misery. Safety, I want safety. Don’t let anything bad happen. Make it all alright.”

“Please?”

— Whispers! Yes, whispers too.

And the gods shine on. Do they draw out our volition from ourselves; is that which they feed on, and glisten so? The street of the small gods — shine here, and soot opposite. Why is there so much power here, then?

I imagined the spirit of this street as a tiny woebegone creature, huddled against rain. Quite scared of so much expectation. And then I thought, do streets, even of gods, do they feel? Do they have any spark of life at all? So much life is poured into the small gods, lost among their bells and flames and holy water. Perhaps it all coalesced. Formed a trickle and then became a sea.

A sea with everyone in it. All of the people you are, and all the other people you carry with you – in essence and memory. In the six degrees of separation of mankind, at least three degrees of everyone are here. In one great sloshing frenzy of hope and fear. We of all the different answers and positions that just throw up more questions and more doubts. We are all here, bound.

The small gods know it all.

They never seem to end. The taxi crawls along the puddled, mired lane, and they gleam into view one by one. Cynicism doesn’t stand a chance here. Not against this sea. Not against the sweet incense, which is still something more.

When the policeman directed the taxi into a thin, unfamiliar byway I was annoyed. And as a good sceptic, I laughed in scorn, at the first god’s miniature marble palace, his inner sanctum, and his priests, clean-shaven and yellow dhoti clad, with a tikki at the back of the head – self-importantly dispensing water touched by the god’s feet, to some gullible believer who no doubt paid for the privilege.

Then, as I turned away from that scene, on the other side of the taxi – outside – was an ancient Banyan, sky high, spread out in a canopy, eating up a thirty foot brick wall; huge white-grey tapering cylinders of roots descending in bunches from high up, suspended between earth and air. Oh for a camera! I cried. Almost appalled at the symmetry. It should be ugly, but it was beautiful, even the ruins that I could glimpse behind, in that fantastical reflection of the small gods’ light.

And then the small gods called. We have the world here, they said: look. Turn. Listen –

Be quiet!

One by one they passed, all festive pomp and people’s diligent care. Utterly, delightfully self-important. The stars of the stage. Hanumanji, beloved of porters, a huge Ganesh, patron of wealth and business, resplendent, with a pint sized, very pretty Kali on his left – this is her city after all, and she does not like being left out. Shiv in his abstract form, covered with garlands and tinsel. And more and more, Ganesh, Hanuman, Kali in miniature all around. Even a Krishn I think.

I was cheering for them by the time the sweet shop loomed up and announced an end as we turned the corner. Every few feet before it, almost every façade was god ridden. Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle they went, one after the other, radiating something intangible.

The lights went out but I felt a glow in me.

I smiled in the dark.

So do I now believe; that is what I ask myself.

*

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