Monday, March 14, 2005

The pandit, the lighter and the cellphone

Was at a puja on Saturday evening. Now these are not things I’m usually at, but I had no idea there was going to be one. Thought it was going to be a regular get-together with a couple of friends, but it turned out to be a puja for their seven-month-old daughter. As I entered the vestibule I spied a panditji, a havan and scattered garlands in the room ahead, but before I could turn around to leave the door was bolted shut behind me.

So there I was feeling very skittish, wearing an FCUK shirt with a condom reference on it, at a sacred ceremony being held to celebrate the miracle of birth. But as the evening proceeded in its torporific way and I registered the goings-on, I noticed that the panditji was very mod. Apart from throwing in bits of English as footnotes to the sacred chants, which was fine, he interspersed a few phonetic jokes here and there, eg equating the term "hast-bandh" with "husband" to make a point about women being the dominant partners in modern marriages.

At one point, as panditji was chanting (and this is supposed to be an uninterrupted process), his cellphone rang; he took it out of his pocket, accepted the call and – I still can’t work out how exactly he managed this – asked the caller to "call back in a couple of hours, I’m at a puja" even as he kept the chant going. All done in the same cadence and tone. Remarkable.

And later, when a few diyas had to be lit and a matchbox couldn’t be found, he produced a lighter from somewhere and did the job.

What I found interesting was that no one among the family or guests, not even the older people present, seemed to mind any of this; there were indulgent smiles, a few giggles even, and then everyone put their solemn expressions back on and continued nodding their heads from side to side the way you’re supposed to do at pujas. Now those of you who are regulars at these events might have seen this sort of thing before, but it was completely new to me, and quite an eye-opener.

If your pujas are this entertaining, start inviting me to them, people.


  1. Arre all pujas are entertaining to the hilt.. why do think we keep having them? We cant, afte all, still believe that these mobile toting, motor cycle riding pandits can actually make miracles happen?

    You are welcome to come home to any and all the pujas that happen. Anytime, esp when u are in mumbai next.

  2. The northies have nothing on us Tambrams. I thought we had the market cornered on 'mobile toting, motor cycle riding pandits': apparently not. I had a pleasant time at my own 'sacred-thread ceremony' where I made myself intensely annoying by asking irritating questions my knackered relatives ultimately refused to answer. Then I deliberately mispronounced all the mantras the pot-bellied priests had me chant and have not worn the threat (oops, Freudian typo?) ever since. Even at age eight, the idea of voluntarily submitting to absolute celibacy scared me.

  3. All those smiles and giggles allow us to adjust our posteriors and get the blood flowing back into numb legs. A break from all the nodding devotion, circulation ke naam. (I'm talking about the pujas where everybody has to sit cross-legged and bear it grimly)

  4. thats the beuty of unstructured hinduism ! Catch something like this happening in a catholic or muslim household..the priest/kazi would be excommunicated and so would you !
    And before you think i'm a vhp supporter let me say ..i'm half hindu , half parsi !
    Arnavaz aka Anu