If it had not been for the lady with her skyscraper heels and smart-alecky and wise-cracky comments good enough to gutter-bound the savviest of them all, this experience, perhaps would have never happened, or if there had been a chance for such an occurrence it would have been bypassed. I dimly remember making a trip to the Hanuman Mandir Complex, near Connaught Place many seasons ago; the scalding sun in the month of June made me beat a hasty retreat so what knee-high memory remains is that of stepping into a little shop with deck-high piles of denim rolled into individualised planks for the yardage. If my itsy-bitsy recollection is anything to go by, my cousin wanted custom-made, or as I write, the word that is playing back in my mind is “tailor-stitched” jeans to take back “home” to show off. Home, was Cardiff, and so now it makes sense! One can get a pair of Levi’s—yes, yes with its logo tag stamped with the gusto reserved for branding livestock cattle—for a pocket-sized rupees 1000 something. And this figure I tot up in the Year of the Lord, 2018, having gone to the Denim Hub housed in Mohan Singh Place, an organic part of the Hanuman Compound.
Fortunately, it was the early part of February, and the soft, warm glow of the sun allowed for an unhurried, unrushed, easy-going experience. The Square, a film-maker’s delight?! A boatload of India, up and close?! To film the Hanuman Mandir premises by…but before doing so another interesting discovery, the temple dates back to theMahabharata. So let us arrive at this upbeat, all-inclusive, life-attesting arena. The Mandir, of course, is the soul of the place, the rest—rivulets radiating or is emanating the better word—this mighty ocean. Flower-sellers while heedlessly chatting away with little attention to the ruler-long, rake-thin needle that is stringing marigolds into garlands—offerings. Mehndiwallahs setting up shops—foldable chairs, a tuckaway table displaying a well-thumbed catalogue of henna designs that would adorn the hands, the feet of dainty brides, bridesmaids or the entire entourage of ladies attending the wedding celebrations. Fade Away Tattoos read one sign—to catch the fancy of the foreigner, one would safely assume.
Then there is the real McCoy—irremovable tattoos with ink flown in from America, no Chinese maal here, so no Houdini act!
This assumption, certified a little later, when one chances upon a queue of what I would believe Russian women, going by their straight from Janpath— jutting out shopping bags bearing ethnic harem pants and dhoti skirts with matching embroidered tops—and their tell-tale break-neck, fleet-footed speech. Then there is the real McCoy—irremovable tattoos with ink flown in from America, no Chinese maal here, so no Houdini act! A former Hippie, repentant to the extent of embracing Yuppiedom with a born-again Christian fervour, unquestionably happened to have halted at this stall. Currently, the 70-something gentleman from Manhattan (he left Haight Ashbury, San Francisco once he ceased being a Beatnik, and this was his first trip to India after his drugged Dharamshala days 43 years back) introduced himself in his current Avtaar of a Risk Analyst. (Whatever that is supposed to denote!) Some conference bringing him here, and since it was a blink-and-you-will-miss-it-trip, he was told that he could capture the sights and sounds of India in this enfolded enclosure.
I directed Mr Connors to a table manned by a Palmist where lay a grimy magnifying glass eyeing for space with a grainy picture of the Hand Reader, two score years younger, hugging some film-star of yesteryear—testimony to the accuracy of his predictions. Would he risk his future to be read out for a dirt cheap amount of rupees one hundred? I doubt if he did take the risk…those wild man days were well beyond him, correct? More of the same ilk dotted the place—tarot card readers, astrologers one with, ugh, prominent gold molars continues to make my teeth itch, and I thought with piling on years came the capacity not to give a stuff… Then there is a serpentine lane with bite-sized kiosks housing prodigious Puja Samagari for every possible invocation, appeal, petition (prayer, in plain speak)…laung, chandan, elaichi, roli, haldi, kapur, seasame oil, incense sticks, rice and what-not, with one-time use havan kunds. An experience that can best be described as finding the ever-elusive and fortune-conferring four-leaf clover—maybe, once in a Cinderella-esque moment.
Then there are the poor beggars aligned in the collaborated constellation of the day, knowing the exact hour, down to the last second hand of the clock, when food packets would be thrown in their direction. Some squatting, bearing their painful amputated arms, the stubs bandaged to cordon off the visual horror, or left as is, to bespeak, attest to an existence where one has to question the severity of the Karmic Cycle by which we swear by, pledge allegiance to. The banana vendors, with their wooden push-carts, the glass banglewallahs carrying clinking crystal-cut wrist adornments, the new-age silky threads (moulis) showing up in tie-dyed hues of red, saffron, pearl-white, that are wound many times over wrists, to form an amulet, whilst for many, making a fashion statement.
Amazing that the Snapchat and Netflix Generation find this courtyard a cool place to hang out, click their obsessive Selfies, scrunch into pot-baked sweet potatoes dished out from a transportable tripod stand by Street Bakers.
This place, enfolding Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Isaiyas in a homogenised embrace…
Dr Renée Ranchan writes on socio-psychological issues, quasi-political matters and concerns that touch us all