Monday, January 30, 2006

Walking at the Gurdwara

I had got a job in Mumbai. Filled with uncertainty and foreboding, I arrived in the city. The first place we visited to look for paying guest accommodation belonged to a very nice Sikh family in Sher-e-Punjab, Andheri East. They looked like very sweet people, and the place was just 2 km from my place of work, and so I took the place without a second thought. After a day or two of unpacking and settling down, I set out to explore the locality.

The house was situated in a quiet, friendly street, and just a couple of roads away was the main road. I was pretty thrilled to see that everything was close by. Medical shops, General stores, a supermarket, eateries, everything. For the rest, we had to go to Andheri station, which wasn't too big a deal, anyway. I settled down, glad that I had chosen this place.

But only one thing was missing. A park for my daily walk. I asked the girls in my pg, whether there was a park anywhere around, where I can walk. "A park? In the middle of Andheri? Do you know how much paucity of space there is out here? And you want a park. A park! Ha!" They said, and laughed derisively. Half of the derision seemed to be directed towards Andheri, and the other half towards me, fresh from the Garden City and expecting parks and gardens in the middle of Andheri. I refused to believe that there could be no place for little children to go and play, for old people to go and sit and talk, or for people to just spend some time, or walk. But these girls had been here for over a year, and they would have known!

I gave up and decided to walk on the streets of Sher-e-Punjab. Now, anyone who knows this locality knows how much of a risk I was taking. Tiny, narrow roads, going nowhere and everywhere. A largeish road where traffic was in full swing, where BEST buses zoom back and forth. Nothing resembling a footpath. But walk I did. Past the shops, past the bus stops, past the gurdwara and the temple and the church, past the hospitals, the cybercafes. I started enjoying it too. I discovered more shops, more places. With familiarity came boldness. I walked through strange new roads. I explored every nook and alley. Until once, when I got hopelessly lost and had to catch an auto back home.

I went home, forlorn, and went to Auntie (who owned the pg accommodation) and poured out my sorrows to her. "I have no place to walk here", I said. "Every locality in Bangalore has a number of good parks where I can walk. Why aren't there any parks here?". The Mumbaiya in her rose immediately. "Who said there are no parks in Mumbai? I have heard there is a park behind the Gurdwara", she said. "But I have never seen it", she added.

A park behind the Gurdwara? And Auntie, who goes there everyday, hasn't seen it? Then I don't think any such park exists. I tried to remember if I saw anything when I had gone to the Gurdwara the previous week to see what a "Langar"(community dinner) is like. I remembered no park. Auntie must be mistaken. I dropped the idea from my mind.

But the next evening, my sneakers-clad feet automatically took me to the Gurdwara. I walked past it a couple of times, peering in to look if I could discern any magic chink anywhere which would open into a park. Nope. No luck. But how can Auntie be so confident? I anyway decided to go in and have a look. But as I approached the gate, I stopped. While going to the Langar, Auntie had told me that I could wear whatever I wanted, but I should cover my head. I was covered from top to toe in a track suit, but i had nothing to cover my head. Ok, I was not going inside the Gurdwara, but could I enter the premises with an uncovered head? To add to it, I saw a group of old Sikhs in big turbans and long flowing white beards, standing around in their typical dress, and conferring among themselves. They looked so serious and dignified, and I felt very shy and small. I could not enter. I just hung around, intimidated. The guard came to me and raised his eyebrows. "What?" he said. "I...err... Park?" I ventured. "Inside", he pointed with his thumb and walked away. Just as I stepped into the gate tentatively, a lady, dressed like me in trackpants and walking shoes, walked in briskly. She had not covered her head. I immediately followed in her tracks. She skirted the main gurdwara, went a few steps towards the right, and made a sharp turn. There was a small gate, and she disappeared through it. Following her, I stepped out through the gate and could not resist a cry of surprise.

A huge, huge, huge park! Complete with a walking track around it! Trees and bushes lining the walking track. Benches with people sitting on it. A small lawn with little kids tumbling about, and their parents watching and talking to each other. There was an entirely different world here! I trotted down the dozen steps, and fell in step with the dozens of walkers and joggers. As I walked briskly, I noted the surroundings. The park was enclosed by a tall compound on three sides. The fourth side was the wall of the gurdwara. No wonder this place wasn't visible from outside! It took me almost 10 minutes to finish going round the park once. It was that big. I walked to my heart's content and went back home, gave Auntie a thankful hug, and went up to my derisively laughing pg-mates, and laughed back derisively at them, while telling them of my find. "Just 5 mins from here? A park??" they said. Their incredulous expressions made my day! ;)

I became a regular at the park. On most of the days, I returned late from office, and could get to the park only at 8 pm in the night. It was a race against time to finish three rounds of the park, before the guard blew his whistle, signalling that he was going to close the gates. But this walk at night was the best. There were very few people, and I could walk and swing my arms as much as I wanted without worrying about hitting somebody else. Though it was dark, I never felt scared. The lone bright light came from the Gurdwara. I guess the proximity to a holy place put me at ease. And to add to it, every night, I walked accompanied by the sonorous drone of the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, which came out of the loudspeaker at the entrance of the park. This sound was strangely comforting. As if somebody was accompanying me during my walk and talking to me. At the end of a year, I could recite most of the verses, in the same tune, same style, but I think I got most of the words wrong. :)

My walks ended abruptly when I fell and had a ligament tear. I had to leave Mumbai to come back to Bangalore even before my leg healed and I could resume walking. So I could never go back to my beloved park to walk there one last time.

Recently, I was surfing channels on TV and heard the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib. I was immediately transported back to my walk. All the feelings rushed back to me. The slight out-of-breath feeling. The hunger, thinking of what delicious dinner Auntie would have cooked. The mental exhaustion that comes after a hard day's work at office. The loneliness and emptiness in the heart. The feel of the mobile phone in my pocket, waiting to ring and bring the voice of a loved one to me. Bitter-sweet memories. Strange feelings. But an experience I would not have traded for anything else in the world - Walking at the Gurdwara.

24 comments:

IndianPad said...

That's soo cool! I go to the gurudwara once in a while for the langar and it always transports me back to my childhood days in India...

Shalini said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. Your ability to convey a sense of wonderment at the simplest of things in life made me read it again. Simply superb.

Chitra said...

Hey Shruthi,

Nice post this one .. will drop by often to check for updates .. and bout my journal .. i'll try and update it more often , its been a year since i last posted.
hoping to read more of yours :)

Shruthi said...

@Indianpad: :) Some things have an unbelievable power to transport you elsewhere so easily, right?

@atraveler: Thank you so much! Such a lovely compliment :) I am honoured!

@Chitra: Hey thanks :) Looking fwd to more posts on urs ;)

Shriedhar said...

one more sensuous post :)

i like the way u convey :)

Anil The Great said...

shruti :

There is an aura when in the premises of a holy place. I am not much of the jogger type. But I have spend lots of hours sitting alone and solely in the temple and humming the rhyms of those deep devotional songs. They could make me reach a state of trance.

There are some things which you are so used to , from your childhood, that if you dont find in your sorrounding, you feel uncomfortable, an uneasiness s always there subconsciencely, and that in your case was a park.

Nice memories and lovely post.

-ATG

Shyam said...

Lovely post!

Ash said...

Wonderfully warm post !

Bhupi said...

reminds me of the day when i called you once and you were gasping like anything and I was like WALKING, YOU!!!!!!

Shruthi said...

Shreedhar, ATG, Shyam, Ash: Thank you! :)

@Bhupi: Yes, do u believe me at least now? :O

Manasi said...

Wonderful post!
I must say I am surprised there is a park in andheri! For all us Punekars Mumbai is only about crowds. And whenever I did visit mumbai my first thought was leaving it at the earliest.
But reading your post I think I should stop my step-motherly attitude towards that city and try and explore it whenever possible. :)

RT said...

Oh yes. There is a park behind the shere-punjab gurudwara. Having lived there a good while, you sure brought back memories of the place. While there, did you see this ship-shaped house? Thats the most hilarious house I have ever seen in my life. :)
And talking about parks, where you stayed wasnt very far from the Aarey gardens where I used to go for walks frequently. That was also a favorite place for leopard visits. But thats another story.:-)

Shruthi said...

@Manasi: Thanks! Yes Mumbai has its little surprises, you just have to look out for them, thats all :)

@RT: Wow... you do know the park! Noooo I did not see this ship-shaped house... how did I miss it? Now I want to go back and look for this! :) Someone told me bout the Aarey Gardens, but nobody knew where it was! Leopards?? Lots of those in Mumbai, right :)

journeylist said...

hey shruthi, good post. my office was in andheri east as well, quite close to the place you have mentioned. and to think such a place was nicely ticked away somewhere there...

Anonymous said...

Hey Shruthi
Came to the blog from ur Orkut profile ( u r on my friend's list). Some very interesting posts and very funny insights into the 'relatives and friends' circle and their comments.. especially people in namma bengaluru seem to have a tendency to do this :)
Liked your style of writing, its uncluttered and straight. I think your most positive aspect is your ability to put into words the most mundane incidents and commomplace happenings that we tend to take for granted.
This is my first visit... will visit often from now.

Kishore

Akshay said...

Shruthi,
Bombay like you discovered loves to hide her trasures under blanket of chaos, traffic and pollution.

Will come back here more nostagia filled posts.

Shruthi said...

@Journeylist: Thanks :)

@Kishore: Hey, welcome aboard! And those are very sharp observations that u made! and thanks a lot for the compliments :)

@Akshay: Hmm.. but unfortunately, its so difficult to find those treasures! :(

Supremus said...

Wow!

What a beautiful post shruti!! I was almost transported to your world till the end. Sometimes, things like these stay on forever dont they...

Beautiful post.

Suyog

Shruthi said...

@Suyog: Thank you so much :) Glad u liked it!

Emma said...

This was a lovely post... Enjoyed reading this.

Shruthi said...

Thank you Emma!

Harry Nigel said...


Sikhism is considered to be one of the most highly organized religions of the world, on the similar lines the Gurudwaras have been regarded as extremely well maintained, well structured and well-organized places of worship and religious activities, despite so many people visiting it every day.

Richa Mishra said...

I live in sher e punjab very much near the gurdwara haven't been there in a long time your article is making me wanna start going back to gurdwara for my walks..... Good writing

Audrey said...

Loved this article. I used to visit the same park with my friends often. Brings back fond memories.

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