The temple was crowded being an auspicious day. Long queues of people were seen before every sanctum with the longest moving at snail’s pace before the presiding Deity’s. There were pilgrims with families moving around the corridors of the sprawling temple gaping at everything they espied, the swaying elephant eating coconut leaves, the big chariot used to take the gods around the temple and many little idols that dotted around. Outside the temple precincts shops selling flowers and other offerings like coconuts, betel leaves, plantain fruits etc were busy making money. On both sides of the passage leading to the temple beggars, mendicants, sick men and women along with children were begging the people for alms making noise with bowls or pleading in pitiable tones.
It was then a big gleaming car came to a halt at the entrance. A portly figure clad in silk dhoti and angavastram alighted from the car. With prominent ash marks and bindi on his forehead, the fair complexioned Arunachalam with a bulging tummy evoked instant awe and respect. There was a momentary silence from the beggars before they started shouting for alms. He ignored them despite their persistent pleadings. Arunachalam looked around the vast crowd even at the entrance. Someone made a gratuitous remark that the queues are mile long and it would take hours to get a glimpse of god. Arunachalam, a diabetic, decided that he cannot stand in the queue that long in hot sun. When he turned to return home, one man clad in khaki looking like an employee of the temple came near Arunachalam and whispered “I can easily facilitate a darsan within 30 minutes and it would cost 500 rupees. Many have to be taken care of and today being a festival day, it is a bit high.”
When Arunachalam pondered over the wisdom of parting with the money with a stranger, the man as if he read his mind said “Please do not worry. This is a temple. You can trust me. I have already taken six pilgrims inside”
He watched the beggars looking at him strangely and curiously. He decided to take a chance as he did not want to miss having a darsan on this special day especially when he planned to commence a new business venture the next week. The man collected 500 rupee note and requested him to wait for just ten minutes for him to arrange the visit. Having parted with the money, he had to agree.Fifteen minutes passed and there was no sign of the man. He felt thirsty and had a coke. He was getting impatient and started feeling that he had been taken for a ride. It was nearly an hour and the man had not made his appearance.
It was then one woman beggar said “Sami (sir), that fellow is a cheat. He does this daily. He will not come. We could not openly caution you as he would beat us. He is a local rowdy. The police also know. He has a few others working for him.”
“Oh, oh I suspected after parting with the money. It was my desire to have a quick darsan that impelled me foolishly to trust him. Let me return without waiting anymore” he said
The beggars in chorus pleaded for some alms. It was pathetic to see them cry hoarse at every passerby. He told them “Please wait. I will be back in five minutes. I am not like that man. I will be back soon”
The beggars saw him cross the road and not towards his vehicle. He was back in ten minutes and asked them “You must all sit in a row on both sides and wait for your turn without making any noise. No one will be left out, I assure you.”
He waited for a couple of minutes for them to settle down on the floor and gave a ten rupee note to each of the adult beggars and a five rupee note to each child. When he had completed the distribution, he asked whether anyone was left out. One little girl said “Give ten rupee to that samiyar(spiritual mendicant) in ochre robes in that corner. He will not sit with us or ask but will remain silent and hungry”
Arunachalam went to him and handed over two ten rupee notes and the mendicant in turn smilingly handed over one note to that girl. Arunachalam saw all the beggars smiling with satisfaction. He rejoiced at their smiling faces and did not feel for the missed darsan inside.
When Arunachalam entered his house, his wife asked him whether he had a good darsan of the God and was happy. He replied to the bewilderment of his wife”Yes, not one god but hundred gods in all their smiles”