I stood by the street again and looked around nosily, hoping for bits and pieces of people’s life-stories to spill out of them as they walked by, pieces that they reveal in their clothes and their shoes and their conversations on their cell-phones. There is a temple next to the bus-stop and as is probably quotidian, a boy walked out of the gates carrying a pot of water, flowers floating on the top, probably the remains of the morning aarti. He walked over to the tree next to me and poured the whole thing, water, flowers, prasaad et al into the roots and walked away. A couple of men walked over and one of them sat down on the small boundary that the government has built around the tree. One of them took out a box of matches and I assumed he would light a diya right there, probably recite a mantra. After all, it is not unusual to see men offering water to the sun in the morning, holding their hands up and pouring the water down as the morning rays catch the water and wink at us. And then there are the barefoot pious who walk to Siddhi Vinayak. Prayers and rituals are all around us.
This tree too had been claimed by the temple. There were threads around it and red sindoor on its brown bark and flowers strewn all around. Hark back to the Aryan ages, really. But the men were not there to say their prayers. The one with the matchbox struck a match and held it out to the other, to light his cigarette. They settled down to enjoy their nicotine break. Right on cue, a homeless woman, fat, dirty with matted hair that has probably never been washed appeared on the scene. She started mucking about in the soil of the tree and uncovered two bananas. Then she spotted the men and started bristling. Hey you, she started off, what do you think you are doing. Smoking next to the holy tree? Is that done? Wrong, wrong, wrong!
I have seen this woman about. She is always pregnant. Where does she have her babies, I once asked my mother because mothers, as you know have all the answers. By the roadside, said my mother with supreme confidence. I was haunted by that response for sometime.
And there she was now, giving quite an earful to the two men. It was rather enjoyable to see this reversal in the power-equation. The two discomfited men now rose to their feet. They would have probably shooed this woman off on any other day, turning up their nose at her bedraggled state. They looked awfully guilty now though. Caught on the wrong foot! Sitting and smoking near a holy tree! What has the world come to? Finally, the homeless woman had her fill of scolding the two office-goers. Scratching her head and clutching her bananas, she walked off, still muttering under her breath. The school-bus arrived and I walked home too wondering about socio-economic classes and religion and propriety.