Monday, August 22, 2005

Rock star pandit

Prayer meets are often tiring. They are not tedious only when they last no longer that fifteen minutes; practically unheard of, but for scattered sightings. During festive times I find these solemn meets out of place. For hours we sit, surrounding a pyre, chanting words which have no meaning - only because we don't ask - and mindlessly follow the pandit's lead while there are fireworks burst outside. Once, many years ago, a gathering was asked in all seriousness to stay quiet for two hours and concentrate on god, and shut our eyes but stay awake. People who sign up for Vipassana are in for a treat. The images that spring up in enforced silences are anything but holy; I came away quite scandalised with myself.

But yesterday there was no time to think. Not with the rock-star pandit with the tiny ponytail and raised eyebrow and smirk and all manner of jibes at the would-be groom and gentle warnings about marriage. It was less a prayer than a storytelling session. He would stop chanting halfway through a sentence to tell a related joke and then carry on. We asked questions, he replied, we counter-questioned. It was wonderful to see that religion was not the center of attention. From his approach it was understood that religion and these prayers are a custom, but the main event is life.

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