The Long Walk


Update as of 10 February 2015

Pichagam, have you made the garlands? yelled her mother. Pichagam was stringing the chrysanthemums with the roses and the green fragrant leaves and had to hurry up. Her mother was dressed in the festive silk saree and she grabbed the last few flowers from Pichagam and told her to go and get dressed, while hurriedly giving finishing touches to the garland. She didn’t use any needles or thread for the garland, but knotted the flowers tightly together with fibre from a banana stalk. When she was done, she took it to the prayer room and placed it at foot of the altar along with the fruits, long needles and hooks, a pot full of milk and the special “prasadam”, sweet offerings made in the morning with jiggery and rice. She bent her head low and mumbled her prayers, as her husband walked in dressed in a yellow mundu, a traditional cotton wraparound garment with a red border. His forehead was smeared with the sacred ash and he prostrated before the altar before picking up the garland, the needles and hooks that had been placed alongside the prasadam. Pichagam picked up the steel pot full of milk and placed it on her head to the chants of Shanmuga, Muruga, and headed out of the house, followed by her father and then her mother. They walked barefoot to the nearby temple where the elaborately decorated wooden contraption was ready with its hook holders. The father’s friends and other well-wishers were already there with a large bowl of the sacred ash and they took the needles and hooks from him and smeared the ash liberally on them. And then invoking divine blessing, they garlanded him and then proceeded to strategically pierce the needles and hooks onto the father’s bare torso. For the first few pricks, the father grimaced, but kept chanting and thereafter, he took each needle pierce with a louder chant – to drown out the pain. And then the helpers, held the wooden contraption up and connected the hooks and checked to see if it was well balanced over his shoulders. Chanting one more time loudly, they then proceeded to embark on their long journey on the hard tarmac street to the temple dedicated to the Son of Shiva. Pichagam carried the pot of milk on her head and she followed her father as they trudged the 4 ½ km long walk along the streets of the city to the temple dedicated to the Son of God. The sky was still dark, but the streets were well lit and there were hordes of well-wishers and passersby who hailed the people walking to the temple. Pichagam and her family were part of hundreds of others who were walking this trek that February morning. There were chants along the route, but the walk was not easy. The hard tarmac and concrete roads were rough on the soles, the needles pierced harder if the walkers moved faster, or lost balance. The heavy wooden contraption only felt heavier with each step and the tiring walk made them thirsty every few steps. But no-one stopped, nor did they have any mishaps along the route.

Even D Street was a lit up early in the morning at this time of the year. There was a lot of hustling and bustling as the D Boyz entered the street. Each step they took was with a clear objective in mind – to keep going straight and making balancing the SENSEX on their shoulders,; but the needles and hooks that pierced them from time to time reminded them of some traditional processions in Interior Tamil Nadu – where devotees of the Son of Shiva would take this pain to offer gratitude for boons granted. The street was not straight – there were obstacles like rough streets, which at times would send the D Boyz off balance. This would result in some more needle pierces or hooks tugging at their skins. The delicately balanced SENSEX would sway from side to side – sometimes up and sometimes down. That was the route the D Boyz took to seek divine intervention to protect them this year. And the D Boyz don’t know if their prayers will be answered – because the SENSEX started at 27855 and climbed all above 29500 before retracing its steps and rebalanced to 28183… all in a span of 6 weeks of the year and there are 46 more weeks to walk on.

Pichagam’s mother was by her side, wiping her forehead of the sweat, as she walked along the route. The crowds swelled as they neared the temple and the morning sun was blazing strongly through the leafy lanes that led to the temple. There was a specially cordoned street that was specially arranged for their entry and the temple volunteers and local policemen managed the crowds that had gathered to watch the spectacle. Many were devotees who also paid obeisance to the carriers of the contraptions. Though most of the crowds were Tamilians, there were quite a few Caucasian tourists who also took photographs of the event. Many Chinese and Malay students joined their Tamil friends to line the street and take in the festive atmosphere in this multi-racial island country, far away from Interior Tamil Nadu.

Have a great year ahead … cheers.

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