On a dark, busy, Friday evening in Bangalore I stop in the wine shop on my way home from work. It’s spacious and modern, with steel and glass frontage. Several businessmen are eyeing up the 18-year old imported single malt whiskey, which is very expensive.
On the counter next to the window are a couple of small Hindu idols with garlands of fresh flowers round their necks, along with a large bunch of bananas, half a coconut, and a couple of apples. Several different types of incense are burning, filling the shop with fragrant smoke.
The scenario plays out exactly the same as any other Friday when I’ve dropped by.
I join the long queue with my beers, and watch the young man behind the counter. While his colleague rings up the purchases on the till, he is busily doing some kind of pooja.
He’s holding a bunch of burning incense sticks in his hand, waving them around in 3 small circles over each object to bless it – first the computer, then the debit card machine, then the drawer of the till with all the money in it. He puts the incense physically inside the drawer and almost closes it, filling the drawer with the smoke. Then he takes it out again, touches his chest and his lips in a gesture of blessing, and moves onto the second computer.
As I’m about to pay, a Hijra in a saree comes into the shop, carrying a small yellow lime. She re-arranges the doormat as if she’s somehow involved in the running of the shop, and then approaches the young man, who without speaking hands her a bunch of small white things that look like mothballs but are torpedo-shaped. The Hijra pushes these things into the top of the lime and lights them with a cigarette lighter. While the shop man carries on with his blessings, the Hijra performs her own pooja, moving the burning lime around in circles, looking serious, and blessing various objects on the counter. The manager of the shop cautiously moves a pile of invoices away from the flames.
As I leave the shop, the Hijra is outside, ceremoniously placing the burning lime in the middle of the step that leads down to the street full of speeding autos and cars honking in the dark. Once she has done all this, she will get her money from the shop manager.