The relief of completing the darshan – the act of worship – without incident puts a spring in my step. With time to spare, we cross the compound to the observation hall just a few feet away. The paved road surrounding the shrine is scorching under my feet, but it turns cold as I step on the marble flooring of the gallery. We haul ourselves up on to a platform, our legs dangling a foot above the marble below. From our vantage point, we watch with craned necks and squinted eyes as a new hoard of worshippers fling themselves at the feet of Sai Baba. Forty-inch screens mounted on the corner walls zoom in on the idol and magnify the details that the naked eye cannot see.
The chants and rhythms of the arti ceremony rise and fall in tune with our heartbeats. When we have seen our fill, we move out of the hall and retrieve our respective shoes by handing over the tokens. Outside, as we draw near the exit, we find the spirit of commerce has seeped into the atmosphere and imprinted itself on local surroundings. Small shops have sprung up all around, selling trinkets and souvenirs –key-rings, photos of Sai Baba and other deities, garlands, office diaries and even sequin-clad Barbie dolls.
We select two photos of the Holy Sai Baba to supplement the collection in our temple at home. My daughter insists on a toy. I get her a water-gun and some chocolates as a prize for holding her peace throughout the journey. The lightness of spirit and the feeling that everything will be fine is my reward.
On the way back, the rows of marigolds planted in the fields roll past us as we ease into a four-lane highway, devotion still throbbing in our hearts.