A pavilion with a stone chain at the Kanchi Varadaraja Temple

Have you visited the ancient temple to the Lord of the elephant hill in neigh-bour-ing silk town? The Man from Madras Musings had -visited it as a child and now was doing so after a long while. He vaguely remembered that this beautiful shrine had a couple of stone carvings of lizards on a ceiling somewhere. What he did not know was that in the four decades since MMM last visited the temple, the lizards had displaced the Lord as the principal attraction. Touching them, it was once believed, absolved you of all sins. Now, apparently, the story is that by touching them you make a killing in real estate. And so the throng at the lizards’ sanctum far outnumbers those wanting to see the Lord.

Where are the lizards was the question that was asked in just about any national language as the faithful charged past MMM. He had not really planned to see the two reptiles, but with a crowd that resembled the migration of the wildebeest MMM really did not have a choice. He was pushed into a long cage through which the queue was being channelled towards the lizards. This being the season when the black-dhotied and bare-bodied pilgrims are to be seen everywhere, MMM had the pleasure of being rubbed against by plenty of hairy chests, sweaty underarms and outsize paunches in the push into the long vestibule. Thereafter MMM kind of gave up and was borne along by the crowd, rather like the strange device Excelsior. The women, who were in a similar steel cage on the other side, did not have it any easier he noticed. It was all rather extraordinary, like a passage to a gas chamber during the Holocaust.

The chamber of the lizards arrived after what appeared to be an eternity. The authorities had thoughtfully provided a set of steps for the faithful to climb up and touch the reptiles, one encased in gold and the other in silver. MMM found himself hoisted up the steps by those that came behind him. Once at the wobbly top, MMM tottered for a moment, his hand raised up to touch the lizards. It was then that the man behind decided to lunge thereby bending MMM’s knee as well. However, the crowd ahead of MMM was so dense that there was no stampede ending with MMM’s quick departure to the Land of the Lord. The man behind was apologetic. He was trying, he said by way of explanation, to reach for his cell-phone which was in his pocket, for a selfie with the lizards and had bent inadvertently. He had he said, promised his mother that he would send her a photo of the lizards so that she could e-touch them. Coming down, MMM looked up at the two lizards. Something told him that they were chuckling.