This is one man who played a very important role in my life. I do not know his name. Everyone calls him Panditji. He is the purohit in the small Hanuman temple in Warangal, where I grew up. He is the man who facilitated the successful delivery of prayers---mine and those of my family, to an unknown address somewhere.
Exam times, illnesses, my brother's severe jaundice, my father's fall from the bed on Deepavali day, my grandmother's series of ailments...at these time, and every Saturday evening, we headed for the unassuming little temple run by this man. The puja was quick and simple. After lighting the agarbathis and giving aarti, accompanied by temple bells, Panditji would break the coconuts people offered. He would then give us the orange bottu and theertham, and then proceed to deftly slice the coconuts into small pieces with a very sharp knife. He would sprinke some sugar on these pieces and proceed to distribute the prasadam. Invariably, without even looking up, he would ask my mother, "Kaise hai?...saab nahi aaye?"
One of the Panditji's sons, a tiny lad at that time, wearing dhoti and kurta, used to assist him in the puja. He looked cute in his 'little Panditji' garb, as he did the puja in all seriousness, not a trace of a smile, leave alone a giggle on his face. I always wondered whether the boy was happy helping his father with the puja, for his expression revealed nothing. What if he wanted to go to school and study? And if he did go to school, did his friends tease him about being a purohit in a temple? However, I was too involved with the unfolding of my own life to bother too much about him, though I did, many a time, think of weaving a story on the life of this character....the little purohit.
I wish I could write here, about seeing this little fellow as a young man, still helping his now-aged father. But there is no luxury of such ordinariness in this story...this boy, apparently died of a brain tumour some years back. Can this be called irony? Or just fate? Should we attempt to call it anything at all?
In the meantime, Panditji continues to carry people's messages to that address, which is neither snail mail, nor email, somewhere beyond reach of the world wide web or the satellites that empower communication.
Was he too busy to send up his own?