She surprised all of us. All our thinking and worrying, all our logic and doubt that had been voiced out loud, vanished like how imaginary ghosts slink to oblivion with the switching on of a light bulb.
She was aware that something new and unknown was unfolding. You could sense that from her. She did ask “Papa… “Mama?”, as we shut the car doors and it became evident that papa and mama were not coming along. The moment we hit the main road, she was in her element though, enjoying the drive, saying “sha slowly, slowly” even when I was driving real slow and excitedly shouting out, a child’s delightful shout, ‘Do-co-moh’, ‘JCB’ when spotting them along the way. JCB is an earthmover by the way. She has taken some fascination to it after Radha ‘ma’; also accompanying us had pointed it out to her once. She says bye to a bunch of JCBs’ resting alongside the road just after the Hope Farm junction– “Gudniiiite JCB! See you tu-mohrroh!”
As we kept going on and on though she became quieter and serious. We started pointing out to her all the cows and goats and buffaloes we came across as we drove past villages and though she would indulge us it was not in the same spirit of a ‘docomoh’ shout! She refused to eat any of the many alternatives that her mother had packed for her. Nothing. No cajoling helped.
Finally we reach the chikka Tirupati temple after around an hour of driving. The place around the temple is unkempt and badly littered. So much for this being a famous and ancient temple I think, sadly! In today’s parlance it hasn’t been commercialized yet. Anyway, we find a spot under a huge tree and wait it out there. All she has is some juice. It is quite hot too, the summer’s heat catching Bangalore really early this year.
We walk up slowly to the appointed place and I halt as if forced to, right there at the entrance. On a bench, just within the entrance was a lean man sitting on a stone bench, his head bent low, three fourth already shaven, the hand with the knife continuing those precise movements and black clumps of hair falling off carelessly. Averting I see some more broad stone benches running perpendicular to the door staring in their grayness back at me. A saving grace of a shaft of light falls obliquely from the large window opposite this door into this room which otherwise is exuding the character of a bleak cell. I was carrying her and I wonder now how she took in this scene. Was it just another novelty like her open mouthed silence the first time she set her eyes on a train as it roared into the station and halted its own commotion in its own sweet time? I hope it was. I step in resolutely avoiding looking anywhere in particular. Two other people become visible. They are holding babies younger than her in their arms one of who is bawling, the tonsuring process well in progress.
As I stand there in the centre of the room, taking all of it in, a deep feeling of sadness mixed with revulsion is what takes over me and it is mom’s reminder that she might catch my feelings that makes me snap out of it. Dad looks as worse as I had felt a few seconds back and he stands a little away from us. I sit down on a free bench and am thankful for the rest. She is silent, not asking any of her ‘what’s this?’ questions. We try getting her to sit on the bench, next to me after having spread a towel. She refuses, so we spread the towel on my lap and she continues to sit there quietly.
A man comes up to us ready to get started. By then a sort of calm descends over me and I guess she didn’t feel threatened either. He collects water in his palm from a plastic mug that looks like it should have perished by now had plastics been bio-degradable! But as I said some kind of peace had come over me and I made no comments. I was also feeling comfortable with this person who had come over to cut her hair. He began sprinkling the water on her hair. She loves water so we cheer happily for her. He continues the process till it is sufficiently wet. I avert my eyes though when he begins shaving the hair off with his knife. We sit quietly there, I don’t really know for how long. After a while I start looking at the hair being shaved off. Throughout, she sits like an angel, tucked in close to me, not a whimper, allowing her head to be guided by his careful hands. I couldn’t help feeling extremely touched by this whole experience, the silent love and trust of a child speaking more volumes than the confusion of a million thoughts or words
Once done, the hair left behind as an offering to God, we hurry out of that cell and standing outdoors on more stone slabs, near the well, give her a quick bath with warm water brought to us by an elderly man. She is smiling now though a little unsure, maybe feeling different without her longish hair!
We then proceed to the temple. It was everything like how an old temple would look and it felt beautiful and sacred. As we head back, she regains some of her fun spirit and starts chanting ‘mimi house coming soon’ and we continue to look at all the cows and goats and buffaloes on the way!