Monday, 25 January 2010

The old men of Alandi





The first thing to strike you as you enter the courtyard of the Sant Dnyaneshwar Temple is the old men sitting around and seemingly doing nothing. They are all similarly dressed, in white dhotis, kurtas and Gandhi caps and are of an indeterminate age that says that their hair has matched the white of their clothes for a long time now. In a chamber, square in shape and opposite the main entrance, a young man narrates the Dnyaneshwari. His audience has old men and women, sitting on his either side, segregated according to their gender by habit. Here again, men outnumber the women. I am tempted to take pictures but choose to respect the signs that request not to. 


The courtyard has another unique space, an area where Sant Dnyaneshwar used to sit and read. A few steps lead up to the space that is walled on three sides. The walls have marble tablets with Dnyaneshwar's writings carved on them. More old men sit around quietly reading the Dnyaneshwari. In fact, wherever you turn, there are Dnyaneshwar's writings - painted on the walls, carved on stone tablets or printed in books...


I didn't think about the old men too much. Not while I was in the temple. Later, while I sat on the steps of the ghat, watching the Indrayani river flow by, I struck a conversation with a lone old man. We talked about the weather. He said, "It rained last week in a couple of neighbouring districts. It wiped out the jowar crop. It doesn't rain in monsoons. It rains in winter. When man starts acting funny, what do you expect nature to do?" We talked about his land: "I have some. Two or three acres". We talked about a good time to take a dip in the river: "Four in the morning. The water is warm and there aren't too many people around". A man came by and offered to put a tilak on our foreheads. The old man refused politely. "You will find all sorts here in Alandi: drunks, drug addicts, pilgrims..." The silences in our conversation are punctuated by his chants, "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna". We talked about his sons: "One is a builder, the other has a government job. But they lead their lives. Some times when they remember, they give two rupees to me..." There is no regret in his voice. It is just another piece of information. We run out of things to say and slip into silence. He begins to clap his hands gently to the rhythm of a prayer in his heart. I relax and find that my palms are clapping a rhythm on my thighs...


Later as I sit in the bus staring at the gathering darkness outside, the old men reappear in my head. I see them in the light of the conversation by the river. Could it be that all of them had cut off all ties and entered the last stage of their lives, that of renouncing and meditation as prescribed by the Vedas? I don't know. I will have to go back to find the answer.


The next day, the Indian Express carries an article on Narayan Dutt Tiwari, the ex-Governor of Andhra Pradesh who resigned a few months ago after a video allegedly featuring him in bed with a couple of young women came to light. The article ends with this paragraph:
Tiwari, though, is in no mood to call it a day. He's no longer in active politics but he's not content with being relegated to the role of a mentor. "Not mentor," he says promptly, "but a co-builder. I will now work towards consolidating what we have achieved. I constantly update myself. I have leapt through generations," he says.


Narayan Dutt Tiwari was first elected as an MLA in 1952. He is 85 years old.


For more pictures of Alandi, please scroll down.

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