I finally got a chance to visit the city I had always wanted to – the city of joy, Kolkata. I was there with a friend and luckily on a Sunday. The roads were wide and empty; they weren’t too crowded and the sky was clear. We roamed around the Park Street area and liked the vibe of the place.
Everything was good in the city – the street side phuchkas were lip-smacking, the kusum rolls were as delicious as we had expected, the baansuri wala standing outside the popular Flurys was melodious and people including our cab drivers were friendly and nice, even the one driver who dropped us at night to our friend’s secluded flat near the airport. However, there was one sour experience which left me shocked and disappointed and shook my faith – not in Kolkata, not in God but in humanity.
Having visited Kolkata for the first time, I really wanted to pay a visit to the Kali temple. My Sikh friend agreed to accompany me and we took a black and yellow taxi to the temple. The taxi driver stopped few steps away from the temple. We got down and reached the market outside. Suddenly I heard a person beside me shout, “Keep your shoes here – no charges.” I smiled thinking that the guy is doing some charity. We took off our shoes and kept them under the table on top of which some saamagri (items used in praying) were kept. I didn’t realise anything when I was handed a basket full of saamagri by that same guy. I was amused. “This is God’s prasaad. Which one will you take – ₹151 or ₹201?” Not knowing what to do, I turned and looked at my friend. She was equally perplexed by all that was happening. “₹151,” I said and took out the money from my purse and handed it to him.
We started walking towards the temple when he called out again, “Come, I will take you through the VIP entrance, otherwise it will take you three to four hours for the darshan – it will cost you only ₹200.” We were shocked by the commercialisation of everything. “Never mind, we will manage on our own,” we said and started walking. The guy ignored our decision and started walking beside us. “Okay, let it be, I will help you,” he said and started pulling us through the crowd towards the main praying hall.
We bowed down in front of Kali maa and paid our respects but could not see the idol clearly because of the constant push from the crowd. He then took us to another hall in the temple. It wasn’t much crowded. There were few people who were sitting and there was Kali maa’s beautiful and mighty idol. He took us to another man, probably the pujari, and said he will give you blessings. The pujari then took me first to a corner and tied the red duppatta around my head. “What is your name? What is your father’s name? What is your gotra?” He asked me a few questions which I answered obediently and then he touched the coconut to my head, applied tikka, etc.
Everything was fine till he asked me the ultimate question, “We are taking charity for our temple. Are you for Kali maa or Durga maa? ₹1100 for Kali maa and ₹2100 for Durga maa.” This was my tipping point. I started shivering listening to his words. How could he even mix God with business? Why did he have to separate Gods by charging differently for different incarnations of the same God? The words “₹1100 for Kali maa and ₹2100 for Durga maa” still echo in my ears.
With shivering hands and an aching soul, I took out a ₹100 note and handed it to him, saying that was what I could afford to give. Shamelessly, he said, “Please give a pair of notes.” I took out another ₹100 note and ran away, Then they took my friend with them to the corner and asked for ₹200 without differentiating between Gods this time. Standing in the middle of a temple, in the name of God, they took away our money and then grinned at us asking, “You are happy with this contribution?” We grinned back like helpless souls.
We came out and wore our shoes and the guy who was being our unwanted guide from the beginning said, “Sister, please give me dakshina before you leave, I took you through the VIP entrance, you should give some dakshina to me too.”
I took my friend’s hand, who by now was regretting coming here and started rushing towards the exit. I even left the prasaad basket with the guy for him to take another tourist for a visit to the Kali temple.