Afghanistan. If I recall, my earliest memories of anything Afghani are those of Rabindranath Tagore’s story “Kabuliwalah” which I had read as a kid, Amitabh Bachchan’s movie “Khuda Gawah” which I had seen in my teen years and my liking for Pathani dress as I grew up. Beyond this, Afghanistan never caught my attention until 2001 when it hit headlines worldwide after US led invasion there. Since then, the name Afghanistan invariably brings to my mind the picture of a war torn country. Most of the media coverage has focused on the war in Afghanistan. In midst of all this, very seldom have we got the chance to see, to know how is Afghanistan on a normal day, the people and the life there.
I came across a very beautiful and touching video made by Lukas and Salome Augustin. In their own words –
“As each of us has his own impression of Afghanistan that is predominantly marked with pictures of foreign forces, explosions and terror, we were privileged to have access to capture daily life and portrait some people of Afghanistan.
We hope the pictures you know will merge with the pictures you see and will enrich your view on the country in the Hindu Kush.”
It’s been a long time wish of my mother to visit Shirdi Sai Baba. I have often heard my elders say that one cannot reach God’s altar unless He summons. Probably true! My mother’s wish remained unfulfilled for several years until few weeks back.
We left from our hotel in Shirdi and reached the temple around 8am. I went inside to get the VIP passes. As assured, our names were found in the register and the passes were issued to us. Due to these passes, we didn’t have to wait in queue for long and in about 15 mins we were all standing in front of Sai Baba. It’s pity that one doesn’t get more than a few moments in front of Baba. Everyone is pushed out to keep the queue moving. Finally, Sai Baba beckoned my mother and us.
It was our first visit to Shirdi. I couldn’t plan much for the trip and had little idea what to expect. We reached Mumbai on a Saturday morning. My friend, Mayank, had booked a taxi for our trip to Shirdi, Shani Shinganapur and Trambakeswar (near Nasik).
On our way from Mumbai to Shirdi, we passed by at least a few hundreds devotees of Sai Baba who were walking to Shirdi. Our driver, Sriram told us that during winter months this is very common where devotees from all around Shirdi walk more than 100 kms for Sai Baba’s darshan. As per him, it gets very crowded in November and December and especially in the weekends there are lot of visitors.
Our plan of darshan was next day morning, which was a Sunday in December. Mayank could not arrange VIP passes for us. As per Sriram, during this time and without the VIP passes, we must be prepared to queue up for couple of hours for the darshan. Looking at the rush and the crowd on reaching Shirdi, I believed him.
Each morning, there’s an aarti at the temple at 4:30am which is called Kakad aarti. It is said to be very good and everyone who comes to Shirdi wishes to attend it. This results in a long queue for this aarti. It being a Saturday evening, the queue was expected to be much longer. The receptionist at our hotel suggested us to queue up from 11pm onwards. Even for normal darshan in the morning hours, he suggested a queuing time of at least 3 to4 hours. “Doesn’t sound good”, I said to myself.
Sriram offered to help. He called up one of his friends to see if he can help with the VIP passes for Kakad aarti but he couldn’t. He then said to me, “Let me call the PA of my boss. If he makes a call here, it might help”. He came back to me after sometime and said, “The PA said that it is too late for Kakad aarti as the temple’s office is closed now. He can call in the morning at 8am when the office opens. We can then go, get the passes and have darshan”. I said, “Ok, this sounds good. Please go ahead”. I wrote down our names which he then SMSed to the PA.
Earlier that evening, we had stopped on our way for a tea and a restroom break. Over the tea, Sriram told me that he is a driver of a MLA. Since the politician was out on a tour, he was driving for the rental agency. This was impressive to know that we were being chauffered by a politician’s driver :).
My mother later told me, “Baba descended in form of Sriram. When he beckons, he also creates bridges for us to cross.”
“Bhaiya, Chattarpur Mandir”, I asked an autowala who was reading newspaper sitting inside his auto. He didn’t even care to look at me and nudged his head, signaling he won’t go. “These Delhi auto walas will never change”, I said to myself as I walked to the next auto. I asked again, “Bhaiya chaloge Chattarpur Mandir”. “Haan chalunga, par meter se 10 rupaye jyada dene padenge”, replied the autowala. “Kyon? 10 rupaye kis baat ke?”, I asked. “Nahin 10 rupaye to extra dene padenge”, continued the autowala. He couldn’t convince me why he needed 10 rupees extra. Then a young school student approached and asked if he can share the auto with me. He had to go to Chattarpur Metro station which was close to the temple. I said, “Sure”. The autowala then said, “Dono ka double meter lagega”. “Sahi he! Loot macha rakhi he! Nahin jana he tumhare saath”, I told him and walked away.
Right then, another auto reached the spot. I approached and asked him. He said, “Haan chalunga. 60 rupaye lagenge”. My friend had told me that auto fare would be about 45-50 rupees. I tried bargaining to settle for 50 rupees. He then said, “Mandir ke andar jaoge? Puja karne ja rahe ho?”. I nodded yes. He continued, “Tab to aapko free me le jaunga. Baitho andar”. “Bhaiya aise nahin hota he. Sahi batao, kitna loge?”, I asked. “Arrey bhaiya baitho. Subah subah todha punya kama lunga”, continued autowala.
The young school student, who wanted to get down at the metro station, approached again. The autowala told him, “Aap mujhe 50 rupaye de dena. Ab aap dono andar baitho.” Unconvinced I sat inside, thinking I will pay him once I reach the spot.
When we reached the metro station, my co-passenger was about to pull out his wallet to pay the autowala. I said, “Bhai, it’s okay. I will pay him. I was anyways coming this way.” However, he wanted to share the fare but he didn’t have change of 25/30 rupees. He pulled out a 50 rupee note which the autowala took saying, “yeh 50 rupaye aap mujhe de do, baki aap aapas apna hisab kar lo”. I gave the boy 30 rupees and he got off.
A few minutes later we reached the temple. As I was getting down, the autowala wanted to give me 30 rupees. I said, “Nahin, rakho aap. Mujhe free me pahuchakar aap to punya kama loge, par mujhe to paap laga doge”. He then wanted to give me 10 rupees asking me to give it in the temple. I smiled and said to him, “Me aapke naam ka bhi chadawa de dunga. Thank you. Aap se mil kar acha laga”.
This entire incident left me with a very good feeling. It is a very rare experience, especially with autowalas in Delhi.