Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vacationing In Tirupati, And What I Like & Dislike About Organised Religion

I’m wary of crowded places, hot weather and long queues.

Add ill-mannered security guards. And priests who’d make Atilla blush. Blend them, and you get Tirupati.

Yet I had to go. Family tradition. It’s something we do after marriage.

I kept pushing it away for two years. And then, the trip materialised and our family headed for the seven hills.

It was my sixth trip to the place. I don’t remember going to another holiday spot – religious or otherwise – as many times.

At first, there’s much to like about the place: the climate’s pleasant, the locales are clean and green, there’s spicy, piping hot, slurpacious Andhra food. And the datacard works too.

Then, the darshans happened.

There are several types of darshans you can make at Tirupati.

The cheapest option will leave you standing in queues several kilometres long. The slow, painful barefooted drag to the lord’s chamber takes many hours, sometimes more than a day.

Then, there’s the VIP queue, where you have to pay a higher-than-usual ticket price. But you are spared the queue and taken straight to the sanctum sanctorum.

Right before they reach the business end of the darshan, all these queues merge. Then, another wave from this sea of skinheads prepares to hit the lord’s chamber.

There, just as the devotees reach the chamber and get a second’s worth of his glimpse, they’re pushed away by the security – swiftly, rudely – to keep the queue moving.

All those hours in the sun.

For one second’s worth of darshan.

Two seconds, if you’re lucky.

Three, if you hold your ground and don’t let them push you.

It doesn’t stop there.

After this, people queue up again to make donations to the ginormous Tirupati hundi.

This queue is much shorter. But one thing doesn’t change: right after you’re done dropping your money in the hundi, the guard – probably fully aware that your donation helps pay his salary – pushes you away. All over again.

After this, you pass a gallery where overweight priests sit behind a glass wall with currency notes strewn around, waiting to be counted, or be pinched.

I’m an atheist. But what I truly like about organised religion is that it’s a fantastic, recession-proof, all-weather business model.

Its consumers fear abandoning it. Its proponents milk it for its dogmatic worth. And the product itself – The God – has irreproachable manners of pleasing or displeasing its followers.

My heated back-and-forth with some priests and guards would mean I’m not going back to any place of religion in a hurry.

However, if I can, I’m definitely going to set up a temple in every corner of the country.