The Mumbaikar with Multiple Personality Syndrome
It is 6.30 am on a Sunday morning and as expected, the Juhu beach is brimming with people; an ideal condition for a game of 'what’s their story?’ The premise of the game is to guess the story of the people around you by answering questions like 'Where are they from', 'What is their profession' and 'why they are here at this given point'. Given the diversity of the people calling themselves Mumbaikars, the possibilities are endless for your imagination to paint an inspired caricature of these characters inhabiting the city.
Also, as expected, there are some prominently unexpected visitors at the beach drawing everyone's attention. Today, these visitors are a group of dhoti-kurta clad Brahmins sitting in a line at the entrance near Juhu Koliwada.
"This religious month is called Purushottam maas and it comes once every three years. It's the festival of Lord Krishna," says a young Brahmin. He is twenty-eight years old, but his face shines with wisdom beyond his age. While the Brahmins around him are stereotypically dressed, this young man is wearing an electric blue kurta paired with a black dhoti. "This square here has Purushottam Lord in the centre and Lord Ganesha in the corner and we pray to them throughout the month," he says in reference to squares made in the sand with rangoli powder and filled with flowers.
"For this entire month, we come to the beach everyday from Ekam to Amaas," says the young Brahmin, indicating the days of the Hindu calendar. "Days like agyaaras, punam, amaas have a lot of significance and they are ideal for charity. In return for our prayers for their wellbeing, people donate in cash or kind. It can be anything, including a packet of wafers or fruits."
Inspite of the altrustic nature of the field, this sphere too runs the risk of being commercialised. "Nowadays, Brahmins have made puja a business. If I go to a shop and I like something, the shookeeper will tell me it's price. Similarly, if someone wants to do a Satyanarayan puja, the Brahmins will quote a price and will do it only if it's affordable for the devotees. But that's wrong. We cannot sell God. My guruji has told me that if you are going to ask for guru-dakshina, then don't do this work. Take whatever they give with love. Only then is the saadhna successful," he explains with passion and devotion. And then there are perks as well. At a young age of twenty-eight, the Brahmin has already recited the Gita in twelve different countries including South Africa, Singapore and Australia and has also read it eight times on cruise ships. "This depends on the patrons desire," he says grinning.
Like most other professions in India, a huge chunk of this métier today is made up of the youth. "Kids these days are very interested in Vedic knowledge" says a Brahmin with a teacher's ruler. "I have my own Vidyapeeth in Dwarka, Saurashtra with 1500 students. I'm a rushi there. Right now there are 15 students under my tutelage and I'm teaching them the Atharvaved in Sanskrit. I don't have to stay at Dwarka. I simply travel four times a year and also before their exams."
This kind of awareness and passion for religious pursuits is a thriving market for the travel industry as well. "Every year, I take twenty kids with me on a walking pilgrimage to Chautila from Mumbai. We reach after seventeen days. This is right before Navratri and we go barefoot. We sleep on the highway at night, everyone gets food from home that we share and donors take care of the milk, a few meals etc," says a Brahmin with a traveller's compass. He continues, "If you're interested, I'm taking a 12 days tour in November to Haridwar, Gokul, Mathura, Vrindavan, Rushikesh, Barsana, Delhi, Agra and Daman. This will cost you ₹6,500 including travel, stay and food. This is my card."
The young Brahmin, the Brahmin with the teacher's ruler and the Brahmin with the traveller's compass are all personalities of the same twenty-eight year old Brahmin in the blue kurta. He is Hemal Ojha, born in Porbandar, Gujarat and based in Nalasopara, Mumbai. Interestingly, he is also the heir to a TV production house called OM Studio and is the nephew of a famous TV figure adding the feather of glamour to his colourful hat.
Hemal defines the present day young Mumbaikar. He is not necessarily someone who is born and raised in the city but someone who wears multiple hats, and has some connection with the Indian entertainment industry. He exhibits the multiple personality syndromes, often steering off the beaten path to satisfy his many passions.