I have heard of the great California Gold Rush, it is said that actually many people did get some Gold back then,
a few years back, in the sleepy city of Pune, there was a similar Rush, a Gold and Fortune Rush, however true to 21st century futurism, rather than being an actual Gold Rush, this was a Future and Options Gold Rush !!
(revised with inputs from Mr D H Ashish)
It was a really cold winter morning, one of those mornings, when you wake up, stay awake for half an hour or so, and then drop back into your bed, and doze off. Half asleep, the dreams are vivid, maybe because it is 10 am and the diffused light in the room is making the scenery vivid! also for some unknown reason you do have control over the events in your dreams. There I was at some Himalayan foothill, planning my arduous trek to the summit, pondering on how to navigate the heights, unassisted, without ropes or any safety equipment, (ala Point Break!). Sadly, that morning I forgot to put my phone on silent, and that ‘tring tring’ broke my adventurous ardour
In my partial state of enlightenment, in a very lazy manner and with an equally lazy tone, I picked the call and said, “hello”
On a scale of excitement from one to hundred, I was at negative 10, and the caller at the other end was positive 110. That hyper excited dude in an exuberant tone said, “Did you read today’s newspaper?”
His loud tone jolted me a bit, I opened my eyes to glance at the phone to check who is calling, it was ‘P.cat’ calling. (this is not the time to ponder over why my contact list is full of nicknames instead of full names). I put the call on speaker, trying to muster up some enthusiasm to match that of my caller, I said, “yes..” actually I wanted to add something to my answer and elaborate it, but saying ‘yes’ in a rather high tone (scale reading positive 10), sapped away most of my lazy energy, and I uttered just that one word
However, polar opposite at the other end, he doubled down on his tone and in a rather accusatory manner hurled his question at me. “then why did you not tell me?”
Now obviously the grammar of his question is wrong, however since my grammar is also not that great, it was not worth chastising him on that, However he was acting unreasonable. a typical newspaper has an average of 14 pages, each page with 5 main articles, 5 short articles, plus the roughly 4 advertisements. oh yes, count the astro, cartoon, TV and movie schedules, page3 pics etc. Now what exactly of this vast trove of letters and images was I supposed to read, digest, relate, and then think – ‘this might be of interest to A, B or C, thus I need to call A, B and C and tell them’!.
However in my slumber state, I had no energy in me to rant at him, so I dropped back to my negative 10 tone to say, “what”
His enthusiasm was just rising like the barometer reading above boiling water, unnecessarily, he got louder, and I heard him as loud as the speaker of my phone could be, “In today’s paper it says Today is Grand Kuber Muhurat”
Muhurats in India are like “days” in the west, Valentine, Father, Mother, Friendship, Woman etc.. they do have a cultural/ astrological significance, and some history associated with them,, but like their western counterparts they are now mostly utilized for their commercial value to boost sales in the economy
Ignoring this two today’s, I just wanted to ask him, who, what, when, why, how!. However in India, whenever a Muhurat is attached to anything, an emotional connect is implicitly attached to it, and these emotions are basically easily offendable sensitivities. Even in that half awake, half asleep mode, I was conscious about such sentiments (ingrained cultural training!), and in a very polite tone, I replied, “I did not read the paper properly, so must have missed it”
The hyper excited chap, then proceeded to explain me the significance of the Grand Kuber Muhurat. He explained he received a text (from whom, is not known) and the text said that today’s paper (which paper, is not known) mentions that whosoever offers their prayers before 8:30pm at the Kuber Temple, will be showered with immense wealth and riches, as today is, yes, you guessed it right, today is the Grand Kuber Muhurat.
The chap forwarded the same text to at least a dozen, however for some reason I had the privilege of a direct phone call from him. The reason was not because he wanted to share wealth with me, but because his endeavor had got stuck at a very important hurdle, which he posed to me, “Where is the nearest Kuber Temple?”
At that moment, my brain was buzzing with several questions, however my ingrained cultural training prevented me from asking those, maintaining a calm demeanor I replied, “No, I don’t know”
to which he replied, “Then ask someone around”
I woke up, looked around, I was alone in my room. Then I walked out of my room, and found that I was alone in the house, apparently it was 10:30am, and everyone had left for work. Then I walked out of my house, only to find my neighbors door locked!. Was I alone in building I wondered, so I took to the stairs, and alas I saw an anthropoid walking up the stairs, and I also knew him enough to pose to him the purpose of my travels (in shorts, phenomenally old t-shirt, no footwear, hair pointing in random directions). I asked the man, “do you know, the location of a Kuber temple nearby?”
Now ‘hu-man’ is a thinking animal, curiosity is the bedrock of human development, and that man was the prime example of what is right with the human race. He proceeded to ask me why do I need this information, to which I had to relay to him the entire story, mine began with ‘I got a call’. I narrated him the context, with the chap on the speaker phone correcting my version whenever I strayed a bit from the original plot line. After consuming the entire information, that man had now the means and the context to answer my original query. He replied, “No, I don’t know where the nearest temple is”, and before leaving the stage he went on to add, “if you come to know of one, inform me, I will also come with you”.
I am pretty sure he started another chain mail/text thing, as his first instinct as he climbed up the stairs was take out his phone and start typing.
I turned to P.cat, and told him, I will get ready, have a bath and then we will figure it out.
I went back into my den, back to my bed, then after few minutes of lazily lying there, rather reluctantly pushed myself to have a bath, to get ready. The reason was simple, P.cat lived nearby, and I knew his patience level, I estimated a high probability that the restlessness in him would overcome his senses and he will be at my doorstep.
I got ready, took me about an hour and half. It was noon already by the time I sat for breakfast. Glancing at my phone, I saw that I had already received 5 messages from 5 different people about the Muhurat. While having breakfast another 5 called in with the same information. The whole thing had taken over Pune it seems, with a life of its own, growing rapidly, like a mushroom cloud after a nuclear explosion! (aptly placed or misplaced analogy here)
anyways, as anticipated the hyper excited chap, ended up hyper ventilating at my doorstep, and his first question as I opened the door was, “did you find where the temple is?”
The Temple Hunt had begun!
Normally such a thing would have faded out, however, this had all the ingredients of an excellent marketing campaigning,
A limited time offer ending 8:30pm the same day!, having Divine attributes by invoking God, Kuber God!, while appealing to the innermost desires of spiritual enhancement (of gaining wealth without doing work!)
many years later popular culture identifies such a phenomenon, as “going viral”
That Dude, without bothering for my consent made me an accomplice in his endeavor. And off we were on his bike searching for the elusive treasure. From one acquaintance to another, he rode his 11.3BHP engine like a man on a mission. Each iteration began with a mild inquiry of the temple, followed by a detailed description of the Muhurat, some places offered us Tea, some were kind enough to offer snacks, chakli, etc. However all interactions ended with the same outcome, “don’t know where the temple is!”.
Though I was happy getting a regular food recharge every now and then, I still pondered why are we wasting so much fuel traversing the dunes of Pune, navigating potholes, crossing dug up drainage lines, when we could gain the same information by making a phone call! However my Sarathi (rider) was beyond all logic, determined to unearth the treasure, I mean the address of the temple.
Each trip roughly took us half an hour, with the travel and food included. By 5pm we had probably touched every nook and corner of the city. The riding dude, was feeling the heat now, and was losing hope. And when all hope is lost, what do we do? We go to S.P Canteen, and have a nice samosa pav with kokam or lime juice. Now S.P canteen is not the official canteen of S.P College, Pune. The official canteen of the college is within the premises of the college and has a name plate saying, ‘College Canteen’, and does not have the letters S and P on the name plate. S.P’s Canteen (the one which has the letters S and P on the name plate) is actually outside the premises of the college, a good 100m from the entrance, and yet S.P. canteen has more college students snacking compared to the College Canteen. The reason for pointing this out is simple, I am diagressing here, plus if you have samosa and juice at the College Canteen, it is not as good as the one at S.P Canteen.
Back to our Treasure hunt, we reached the last point of solace, got down from the bike. That moment, I was preoccupied with a very important question, ‘Should I go for samosa pav and kokam or Should I opt for lime juice’. A friend of ours was there at the counter ordering, well, kokam. Upon seeing him my first question was, “What are you doing here!”
The exclamation mark, because this new chap in the story was living miles apart, in a faraway place called Aundh. If you are not from Pune, then Aundh is that part of Pune, which is beyond Pune. It is beyond Pune University, and basically beyond Pune University chowk. That chowk is one massive chowk, and if you get stuck at it, it takes a minimum of 15 minutes to come across it. Now they have put a flyover in that chowk to add to the chaos, however back then it was pretty chaotic. Hence, you crossed the chowk only if you had to, only if your life depended upon it. Also, if you are not aware of what a chowk is, in other cities of the world its referred to as an intersection, usually with traffic lights to control the flow of things (vehicles, people, occasionally dogs, etc)
Hence my surprise, seeing the guy from beyond the realms, standing there at the counter.
He replied, “Kuber Muhurat”
Oh!, We were not alone, we had company. However one major point of divergence between us and our new companion, was that, he despite of arriving from beyond Pune, he knew where the temple was !!, he continued to say, “before going to the temple, I thought of having something to eat”
My chap now left me alone to converse with the new chap, to extract information from him, with some sweet talk and if need be some sweet lime juice
The temple was on top of a mountain. Well, it does not look a mountain anymore as cement vegetation around it has almost subsumed the mountain top, technically it is still a mountain. The mountain top temple, that he was referring to was ‘The‘ mountain top temple of Pune, popularly known as Parvati.
An outsider had usurped us in the quest. It was highly embarrassing, the Punekar in me felt ashamed. How could he know such a fact about my city and I didn’t. In my shame I decided to stay away from the samosa, as a self disciplinary punishment.
He proceeded to describe: Apparently, in the multitude of deities worshipped parallely in Parvati temple, it has a dedicated platform and a small temple for Lord Kuber. You cross the main temple, and at the rear exit a small staircase drops to the platform.
Indian temples are never standalone temples, the name of a temple may carry the proper noun of a particular deity, yet they are pretty inclusive . The main temple hall itself will have at least a dozen photos and murals of other deities. Surrounding the temple are another couple of dozen smaller temples, platforms, statues, revering a host of other Gods. The idea perhaps of convenience in offering prayers to all deities , and also somewhat spiritual if you see it as an amalgamation of ideas and ideals. Parvati temple in a similar tradition has several temples in its vicinity
As I was listening to the golden route, the visualization struck me and brought back some fond memories. Years back I was part of a football club – Phoenix FC (tagline: if you see an opportunity to score, just goal it!). The club grounds were the Shahu college grounds, known in footballdom of Pune as the ligament injury grounds (a whole separate story here, maybe later). The grounds were adjacent to the Parvati temple, and our coach’s favorite routine was send the boys running up the hill to touch the temple wall and return back. A 2km sprint for Tuesdays and Thursdays was our routine. Extremely tiring climb, legs used to give up, hence the run resulted in a very lackluster performance in the game that followed the run. So a few smart ones, (me included) used to reach the temple from the main entrance, and hide in the premises, biding our time. Soon the huffing and puffing group of footballers used to come running, touch the wall and return. We used to wait for the last boy running to touch and return, then we used to jump in and join the group. This saved us energy and effort, and usually that day we used to overpower, out maneuver, others in the team. Eventually a string of such distinguishing performances even led to a selection to the district team!
However, returning back to our Muhurat story, the platform described by man from beyond the city, was the one we used to hide in. The moment I realized this, the fondness in my memories came to a screeching halt, and now both kokam and lime juice were off the table. In all wisdom I preferred to keep quiet, otherwise my chap would have surely sacrificed me then and there itself
Now the temple was in our sights, I mean literally in our sights. The temple top can be seen from S.P canteen!. My Sarathi started the bike, thankfully he waited for me to sit, as for a moment I thought that in his joy of meeting the Divine, he had forgotten a mortal ‘me’, because he even forgot to tell goodbye to our informant before taking off.
When we reached the foothill, it was quite a scene. Normally, Parvati is quite a desolate place, a few regulars who run up and down the stairs for no reason, some pensioners who climb only halfway to sit for a relaxing talk with a cup of tea. The garden or what is left of the garden around the staircase, is typically left for the Devotees of Love, who sit there in intense worship. However, that day it seems those love devotees had abandoned the chance of exchanging love promises with each other and joined a queue preferring to have promises of fortune from Lord Kuber. Even the pensioners were in the queue searching for lost glory of a lost age. Typically the temple has flower and coconut sellers lined up at the entrance, they were also missing, maybe they were part of the line. Additionally joining them were people like us, who had dedicated their day in mining the fortune, in finding the location of the mine.
Such an influx of devotees formed a long snaking line around the temple
We march on!
We joined the line at around 6pm. Then on we employed a very special tool at our disposal, ‘Pehchaan kisiko’ – spot a friend, a relative, a neighbor, that bakery wallah uncle, that person with whom you shared a bench in nursery! You just raise your hand to anyone remotely familiar, and if they raise their hand in return, you just rush to their spot without saying a word, join in the line beside them. Using our networking skills, by 7pm we had jumped 2-3 circles of the line, and were within striking distance. But then we ran out of options, as we knew no one who was ahead of us, (sadly, none of our acquaintances were not bright enough to solve the riddle of the treasure map). Satisfied with the relative advantage we had, with no scope of improving it, we converted ourselves into the sincere. Now it was a matter of ignoring those raising a hand to us!. Hence the best option was to look at our mobile screen and text replies to all those who had texted us before, and inform them the location of the temple.
Soon it was 7:45pm, intense suspense engulfed the atmosphere, just 45mins remaining, will we be able to defuse the bomb in time, ‘tik, tik, tik’ or rather in our case will we be able to offer prayers in time, ‘tik, tik, tik’
Everyone around us was nervous, anxious, and suddenly disrupting the slow rise of tension, we had a mild commotion. A few people with contacts! (not contact lenses but real contacts), VIP’s, Police Chief’s etc arrived at the spot to perform their duty, the very important duty of cutting the line, and entering the temple directly to achieve the Muhurat. I wonder if such people realize, that by cutting the line, they might be getting blessing from one God, however thousands of those in the line also must be giving them some form of blessings!. That day was a bit different, a few rebels rose from the vast numbers of the proletariat, and raised their voice against the happenings.
As this drama was unfolding , I was rather calm, at peace, meditative. (probably feeling a bit of guilt, as we too had skipped parts of the line) To divert my guilt, I undertook a deep philosophical inquiry, ‘if offering prayers before 8:30 gives you great fortune, is the converse true, that if you do not offer prayers before 8:30 then will your fortune be ripped away from you?’
At this point it was already 8pm, so I decided to share my misery, and asked those around me in the line, “What if we don’t offer prayers before 8:30, what will happen?”. Apparently no one had the read the original newspaper article, so no one was in the position to answer my question. Everyone was there ‘because someone told them’ and no one had the knowledge repository to answer my query. I even caught hold of the Pandit Pujari (priest) of the temple, as he came out to greet a VIP, even he did some weird hand signals and ran off without answering my question.
However, my question made those around me incredibly nervous. Each one then proceeded to pray to their God of preference, Shiva, Rama, Mahadeva, Narayana, Gajanana,, ‘God, please let my number come before 8:30pm’. I was tempted to point to them the irony of it, praying to one God, to get an audience with another God. However, my ingrained cultural training prevented me from airing my views further, or like Socrates, the irate mob, could have forced me to drink Hemlock!. or worse pushed me outside the line, down the hill. I was so close, losing my position in the line at this point would be monumental stupidity.
It was a nail biting finish, by 8:15 we reached the platform slowly and surely, the temple was within our sights, a few steps and there it was. The temple was below the level of the platform, around 8-10 steps down to the statue of the deity. However the one way in was the same way out, so things were progressing rather slowly. 15mins and around 20 more steps, felt like a cricket match, 15 balls 20 runs (obviously a pre IPL analogy here keeping with the times of the story!, otherwise for IPL it would be 5 balls 20runs).
At around 8:20 something happened. I mean nothing happened, everything came to a standstill. No one was moving for a good 2-3 mins. and suddenly the collective nervous energy of the line exploded, a stampede began , noises started coming, “Hurry”, “first let us come out”, “slow”. A good 5 minutes went into the confusion, noise, total chaos. Taking advantage of the commotion, those in line who calculated their chances of making it to the temple in time were near zero (those righteous rebels) made a forward charge to rush into the temple as a last ditch attempt. My friend received a jolt in his back and he spun unbalanced, to gain his balance he got hold of me, and dragged me with him , eventually we both tumbled into an adjacent cave, it was the temple of some other deity. My friend tried desperately to push back outside into the main line, rather vainly, the force of the crowd was too much for him. With no chance of getting out, resignation crept it, No Kuber Muhurat for us!. In the temple, I saw a few flowers offered at the feet of that temple’s deity. It reminded us, that in our zeal (greed) for making it in time, we had not got any flowers, or any offerings, we had reached the site empty handed. So, even if we had reached the Kuber temple, what would we have offered other than folded hands. Embarrassed, I just picked up some flowers from the feet of the deity and placed them back, as a token of an offering.
In around 5 mins, we heard a loud voice, “it’s 8:30 pm, the Muhurat is over!” A chorus of the same announcement followed, as if it was an echo. The information dissipated down the line. Literally within the next 5 minutes everything cleared up, the entire place was EMPTY!
We climbed up the stairs back to the platform, and to our surprise the Kuber temple was exactly in front, if only instead of falling into the left side cave we had fallen on to right side cave, we would have struck Gold!. So close and yet so far, missed it by a whisker.
My friend was utterly dejected, as if the entire work of his life had been wasted, with a heavy heart and even heavier leg he trotted back. On the other hand I was curious, all these years hiding on the same platform, how did I miss the Kuber Temple, it was eating me from within. So decided to walk down the stairs, to have a look at Lord Kuber, so that the next time a Muhurat comes, I will be ready with all the answers.
I descended down the stairs to the platform, the deity statue was almost invisible, covered in a pile of flowers. Before it was a huge bronze plate, full of money and offerings from those who made it in time. A priest walked in after me, the same one whom I had posed my philosophical question earlier. Somehow his face reminded me to ask a question, and with that natural urge I just asked him, “Is this the Kuber Temple?”
He said, “No”
NO!, I was shell shocked, the look on my face was of total confusion.
The priest looking at my confused state proceeded to explain, “actually what happened is the police came with a huge offering of fruits and clothes for Lord Kuber in a big plastic bag. So before the VIP came, I thought or arranging the entire thing neatly in a bronze plate, hence I came into this temple to arrange the articles. Then suddenly I was informed of a huge commotion going on because of the issue of cutting the line, so I rushed out to see what it is. Meanwhile, the police sneaked in the VIP through another route, and all them looking at the arrangement on the bronze plate thought this was the temple, and they all went in here. All this happened before I came back, and they had left by the time I could say anything.
and since then I am trying to enter the temple, but the entire crowd is coming here only, I was just not able to retrieve my plate. I tried telling them, but they thought I am cutting the line, so they also did not allow me to enter, police had also gone, so I could do nothing”
As he proceeded to collect his Bronze, I saw that the plate above the clothes and fruits, the plate by now had a good 2-3 layers of money and other offerings on top. I realized Lord Kuber had begun delivering out the promised dole, almost instantaneously.
As we both climbed out, I asked, “Then where is the actual Kuber temple”
He said, “हे काय , समोरच तर आहे ! (the front one! the one where we were stuck!) ”
For the rest…well
wait for the NEXT MUHURAT