He was just about to start his breakfast, and when I asked if I could take his photograph, he said, alright, and adjusted his shawl just so. He was a rather quiet, gentle sort of a person. He just sat there outside the temple and smiled at people. Some of them thought he was holy and prostrated themselves before him. You could tell he liked the attention, and, of course, the money they gave him was not unwelcome. He was not grasping like the others though.
From what I’ve been seeing and hearing, it seems like being ‘holy’ is a ‘happening’ profession in these modern times (perhaps it always was). Quite a few people often want readymade answers, and you can provide them with the clichés.
When I lived in Kurla in Bombay, my landlady had a garlanded photo of a bespectacled man in her house. He was her doctor, then he got enlightened, gave up his practice, and all his patients had taken to praying to him. And to showering him more wholeheartedly with monetary gifts.
Then there was the time the building near my art college got a sudden influx of devotees, because a family living there claimed that their life-size acrylic statue of Sai Baba had moved his head. They showed me the photographs, but refused to allow any contact with the statue, which was conveniently placed behind a railing. How do I know the head isn’t movable, I asked, and they told me to ‘have faith’. They also pointed me, discreetly, towards the ‘donation’ plate.
On another occasion, when I was living as a paying guest in Dadar, I came home from college and the whole building was abuzz with excitement. And there was a nice line outside the milk store below. Apparently, all the Ganesh idols in town had developed a sudden penchant for drinking milk.
“Sheer superstition!” said my host, and went to pray to his elephant-headed idol.