Venky knew of Shyam’s expertise in repairing temple furniture and musical instruments. The Mridanga is a two sided drum played during the kirtans, to enhance the music and dance. Shyam also deftly played it with his palms and fingers of both hands. A major part of the monks’ Bhakti yoga practices included devotional music and various instruments needed timely attention and repair. And Shyam’s favorite place to work was the solitary space behind the Vyasasan– a raised seat on which a senior member of the ashram sat while giving class from the scriptures in the early morning. Later during the day, the upholstered seat stood alone and Shyam found the space between the wall and the Vyasasan an ideal place for work, prayers and private meetings.
Around 5.00 pm Venky saw a group of monks laughing aloud at the aisle of the ashram. Shyam was at the center, entertaining the others. As Venky hurried to the crowd, Shyam exclaimed, clapping his hand on Venky’s palms, “You know what I saw just now” Others laughed again.
“I was sitting behind the Vyasasan, repairing the mridanga, and there was no one in the hall except me. The temple had just opened for the evening darsan. Through the thin gaps I saw a young couple enter the hall and stand nervously in front of the deities. They repeatedly looked around, screening the hall, and I guess they deduced nobody was there. Little did they know I was watching their nervous faces through the designed wooden curves of the seat.
“Convinced there was no one indeed, the young boy picked up his huge plastic bag, opened it and pulled out a heavy rose garland and handed it to the girl. Then he pulled out another one and dropped the bag on the ground. With the decorative wreath on their hands, both of them surveyed the temple hall, eyeing suspiciously the doors and the windows. Then in an instant, he placed his garland on her neck as she bent low to accept it. Then she put her garland on him. Like chickens in a typical village look around fearing a dog or a cat as they busy themselves scratching the soil for insects and seeds, similarly this poor couple was shit sacred that somebody’s going to hunt them down. I sat still, gazing at them, not wanting to miss a single moment.
“He pulled out a steel container from his right pocket, it had red vermilion. Then he gently applied it on the parting of her hair; she was now his wife!! From his left pocket he pulled out a cloth, and removed a black necklace strung on a yellow thread.
“I have seen my mother wear it; that’s the mangal sutra” said Venky
“And so it is”, Shyam said. “The groom then tied it around the bride’s neck and thus the most integral part of the Hindu marriage ceremony was now complete. Both of them immediately fell on their knees, offered obeisances to the Lord in the altar, rose quickly, removed their garlands and put it back inside the bag. Then they stood a little away from each other as if nothing had happened moments ago. They closed their eyes and with folded palms, made a desperate supplication; intensely praying for almost ten minutes. I was in splits; it was an instant Hindu marriage; amazing and no one knew it except the merciful Lord on the temple altar and a snoopy monk who saw a wedding after many years.
“Slowly other people came in for their temple rituals and auspicious sighting of the deities. Meanwhile the newly married couple opened their eyes, and slowly walked to the exit of the temple. I too left my mrdanga and walked to the door where we hand a little of Prasad to the guests as they leave the temple hall. I now saw them closely; their eyes weren’t beaming with the joy of a sacred bonding. Rather it was a relieved visage that acknowledged my greetings. I smiled and handed them each a little coconut sweet ball. But my mischievous instinct got the better of me. I looked straight into their eyes and impassively said, “Congratulations on your marriage. The Lord’s blessings are surely with you”. You should have seen that sight”
Again a loud laughter attracted more monks and they nudged forward to be part of this entertainment. Shyam was in his elements, “They were shocked. I saw their lower jaws drop, and then they immediately composed themselves, slipping a nervous smile, and a half-hearted thank you. They fled”
Amidst the loud laughter, one of the monks commented how young couples falling in love are desperate to get married secretly when their conservative parents oppose the match. They are influenced by the Bollywood movies that script out one romantic saga after another. Then another said something about the Bollywood movies, someone else interjected with his wisdom on what ails the youth of the country. And so it went on.
Venky held Shyam’s hand and pulled him aside as others were now lost in their own gossip world.
“You know something is not funny in the ashram right now?”
To be continued…