These are tough times and The Man from Madras Musings being tough gets going – to temples. One of his favourites is the shrine where the Goddess took the form of a peacock to worship the Lord. The priests here are an open book, at least as far as MMM is concerned. A rupee coin on the offertory plate will elicit a pinch of vermillion and a surly look, two rupees a grunt and a pinch of vermillion, five rupees a smile, a flower and a pinch of vermillion, ten rupees a grin, a blessing, and all of the above. Rupees fifty, they say, means a pouch of vermillion. But of that MMM knows not.

What happens when you give a hundred rupees is well known to MMM. This happened several years ago when MMM, then a demure new-comer from Delhi, waited at the altar. Just ahead of him, and blocking most of MMM’s view, was a gentleman of full habit. If he bulged at all odd spots, his wallet bulged even more. The priest arrived with the plate and the fat man deposited a hundred rupee note on it. MMM, then being a student, merely smiled at the priest. Imagine MMM’s surprise when a large garland was placed around his neck, benedictions were sung in full-throated voice and vermillion applied on his forehead. The priest then beamed at the businessman and, pointing at MMM, said that he was extremely happy that he, the businessman, had brought his (the businessman’s) son to the temple. “Nothing like beginning our good traditions early, is it not”? asked the priest in chatty vein. He then patted MMM on the head. The businessman was just turning a rather bright shade of purple when MMM decided to leave, garland and all.

That was, as MMM said, several years ago and no doubt the purchasing power of a hundred rupees has drastically come down despite the best efforts of Chief’s friend who promised to preserve Bharat Insurance Building and convert it into an art gallery. But be that as it may, the priests too need to make a living and every little bit counts.

That times were bad, however, came home to MMM rather strongly recently when he visited the same temple. At the altar of the Goddess, three priests stood and, somewhat like vendors attracting custom to their wares, were outdoing each other in beckoning devotees. MMM gave his offering to the one who smiled the most, whereupon the others openly cursed their fate and said that the smiling priest had the luck of the devil. Such is life.