Backlog of Prayers

Each string, she told me, was someone’s unfulfilled prayer to Lord Shiva; running my hands through the knotted strings, from faded gray to brilliant saffron, the guide followed up, “Once the prayer is fulfilled, the person comes back and unties their string.”

She didn’t find my follow-up amusing, “Shiva seems to have quite a backlog.”

A backlog of prayers seems to define India fairly well: half-finished metro projects, brick roads touched up with concrete, rotten fruit discarded from the dashini to the side of the road; it’s a country caught between realities, where businessmen brush the dust from the fingertips of beggars off their suits mere feet from temples resonant with brass.

The temple on Airport Road was chillingly commercialized; the stair rail in front of the statue of Krishna was aswarm with the offerings of the hopeful, and right before a tourist mounted the stairs he could buy the preknotted string from a vendor.

I am forced to wonder if there were a way to buy a pre-prayed rosary at Catholic sanctuaries.

Flashbulb-bearing tourists and disinterested natives looked on, all barefoot, as the hawkers pushed their goods. A brief flashback to Catholic high school intruded on the moment: In 21 Matthew, when in the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers and dove-sellers, “You have made my Father’s house a den of thieves!”

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