Mundus Imaginalis

Chandigarh in India is a planned city neatly divided into identical sectors. Each sector is divided into four parts depending on the size of the plots that houses are built on.

Four-lane roads connect the sectors and are lined with lush green trees. Beautiful roundabouts on all intersections ensure a smooth flow of traffic.

The height of houses is limited up to the third floor. All shops are of the same size with ample parking areas in markets. It is this planning and thoughtful layout that make the city beautiful.

In 2000, I was transferred from Delhi to Chandigarh. Then, I realised that Chandigarh had grown on me and was not allowing me to live it. I didn't realise the place would grow on me and not let me leave it.

A sales job is like a job in forces where one is frequently transferred. After three years, my office transferred me to Jaipur. But my wife and I didn't want to leave Chandigarh at any cost.

I decided to switch jobs. After two such switches, there was no other option but to start something independently. I got into the recruitment business with my friend. A year later, I bought a two-bedroom flat with a hall and kitchen in a sector on the city's edge. There was a village and farms behind my sector.

But cities grow even when their people sleep. Construction of a six-lane road started behind my sector that would connect with a new airport. Farms started to disappear, and buildings began to rise in place of crops. Unlike three-story standard houses, they were high-rise. As the time passed, my spacious flat became cramped. My elder son got placed in an IT company and worked from home in one bedroom. The other was occupied by my younger son, who was in the 12th standard. I worked from the drawing room.

It was time to move into a larger accommodation and so we shifted to the other side of the airport road. Our flat was on the 13th floor, giving a commanding view of the city from our balcony.

Sitting in the balcony, I could see the sun rising behind the majestic Shivalik range of mountains. My mornings and evenings were spent on the balcony. In the evening, the city lights and vehicles speeding past fascinated me.

The plot adjacent to our society was vacant, and a mall was scheduled to come up there in future. But now the huge plot has a hutment in one corner. Labourers who work in some nearby construction sites live there.

There was a single tap that met the needs for water for around thirty families living there. It was the centre of activity in the morning, with men bathing, women cleaning utensils and washing clothes in a circle around the continuously flowing tap.

The kitchen in the hutment was a mud stove commonly known in India as a chullah. It comes to life before the men leave for work and again when they are back.

Some women work as maids in adjoining societies. But those with young children stay back. The children wear worn-out oversized clothes and move around as they play without toys. They merrily keep running barefoot playing with stones and sticks.

Dinner was cooked in the evening. One could hear the faint sound of Bollywood songs playing on the mobile of men waiting for the food to be served.

One afternoon, I saw a few women painting a portion of a wall white. Then, they created two rough images of a man and a woman in blue and red. As the images dried up and night set in, I heard people singing to the beat of a drum called Dholak. They were all sitting in front of the painted wall and singing bhajans. I later discovered it was their first Navratra.

The following day, I tried to make sense of the images on the wall by zooming into it with my camera. But I couldn't make out which deity or God they had drawn.

Every night after that, there were bhajans for around two hours in front of the wall with the image.

It was probably in class eight that I read in a history book about how thousands of years ago, early man had carved images on the walls of caves they lived in.

As they lived in the forest with constant fear of wild animals, they needed to be assured, and those images they carved might have been of their imaginary God, who they believed would protect them in hostile jungles.

Those carvings were different from those in the caves as the image of God also changed with time.

God is one but is imagined differently by followers. The various images of God we see are filtered outcomes of cultural conditioning. The bhajans stopped after Dussehra as most people left for their villages to celebrate Diwali.

On the night of Diwali, there was no one to light, even a lamp in front of the wall.

Without telling anyone at home, I picked up two candles and a match.


More by :  Gurpreet Chawla

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