In September 2014, we were meeting people, scouting locations, and visiting various temples to get a sense of the Paryushana festival as is celebrated in the city. We managed to get our story, and in the process, we met a number of people who make for intriguing anecdotes.
During one such expedition, we met a most interesting electrician.
At the svetambara Jain temple to the fifteenth tirthankara, Dharmanatha, at Jayanagar in Bangalore, adherents of the Jain religion were deeply immersed in the annual festival of Paryushana, which is centred around the Jain ideals, and is seen as an annual gathering for contemplation and forgiveness.
During one of the rituals, most of the participants were inside two halls, gathered inside to contemplate, first through a small number of rituals, and then through silence.
In this interim, I was documenting the location, taking pictures and notes. After a while, I was sitting on the stairs of one of the auxiliary buildings inside the temple complex. There was a gentle tap on my shoulder. As I looked back and up, I saw this gentleman standing there who said “Why don’t you move your camera-bag, someone may trip on it.” I was glad for the heads-up.
As I moved my camera-bag, we began speaking to each other. I quickly discovered that he is not a Jain, and, my initial assessment was the he didn’t seem particularly religious. He is forty years old, and he said that though he is a Marathi, he is based in Mandya, near Bangalore. He explained that he is the electrician for the temple complex, and that he has been in Bangalore for eighteen years.
After each of us got an approximate sense of what the other was doing in that temple complex in the odd afternoon of a weekday, we exchanged names. Rajiv, I learnt, in these eighteen years, has seen a number of different trades.
He started earning a living as a worker in a cycle shop, and eventually became a projectionist at a movie theatre. Then, he was an auto-driver for a while and also, later started doing some electrical wiring work. Ever the entrepreneur, he eventually shifted to doing electrical wiring full-time and also started taking larger contracts involving end-to-end electrical work and decorative lighting.
The entire wiring of the temple complex we were in was done by him. In addition to this, he still sometimes drives cars and cabs and also brokers real estate to supplement his income.
On being asked if he thinks of the colours and the aesthetic aspects himself, Rajiv responded that “I do the entire design of colours and arrangement and also the technical structure myself. I have not studied it or learnt from anyone.” With a combination of gestures and a unique, abbreviated Hindi, he added “My work stands on the basis of observation and thought.”
I asked him about his family. “My parents are alive, and I have a wife and four kids,” Rajiv said. “What about siblings?” I asked, with a natural curiosity, but with no particular agenda. “I had a brother and a sister-in-law,” Rajiv added “but they passed away in an accident some years ago.”
“Actually,” he went on, “out of my four kids, two are his children, and two are mine. But I have raised them all the same.”
I asked him what his kids do, and he explained “Both the boys — mine and my brother’s — are in the 10th standard. The girls are older; they are married.”
Our conversation turned to religion, and the sense I got was that Rajiv isn’t a particularly religious man and doesn’t know much about Jainism, either. He observed, however, that in his opinion, the Jain community is not as religious as many others, but the Jains who do follow religion often tend to be generous with donations and charity.
He locuted back to work and said “What really matters is the work you do, and it must be done well. We are in this world to perform some task. That task may reside in a shop, in a house, in a temple, or on the peak of a mountain. But all work is work, and merits respect.”
“In a sense,” he added, “a wealthy person running a big leather industry and a poor cobbler on the pavement are doing similar work. They are both artisans.”
On the subject of art, Rajiv insisted that I should see the decorative lights in the temple complex, all of which he has set up. He gave me a somewhat guided tour of the place. Besides the main temple, there was also smaller temples and other buildings, including prayer halls and places of residence for monks and nuns.
At the time, it was late afternoon, so most of the lights were still not switched on. However, inside the temples, the idols were inside chambers which were closed on three sides. Here, the lights were not a spotlight or anything that resembled a fixed arrangement of illumination.
Each idol chamber was lined with colour-changing lamps, hidden from view. But their light washed the idol and the space around in successive tides of blue, red, yellow, violet and other colours, sometimes in combination.
I asked him that whether working in a temple has impacted his life in any way. Rajiv said that the purpose of a temple is to have a place where one can be in peace and quiet, and where one can contemplate. To him, this is more instrumental than rituals or worshipping any deity.
“There may be many different gods,” Rajiv concluded “but all temples are the same.”
It was well after sunset by the time we left, and I made sure to witness Rajiv’s handiwork come alive after dark. It was not quite a sombre affair, but nor was it excessively grand.
Lamplighters, like places of contemplation, are found in many places of this world.
Text: Dhruva Ghosh
Photographs: Dhruva Ghosh and Sweta Daga