City Hangout – The Sheetla Mata Temple Grounds, Old Gurgaon
The soothing secretive corner.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Some places are like a laidback piece of music that initially leaves you indifferent but soon enough, even before you realize it, you are humming its tunes in the bathroom.
The garden in Gurgaon’s Sheetla Mata Mandir has that character. It makes no desperate attempt to make a good first impression. Instead, the place wins you slowly. All you have to do is to arrive in the park alone, settle down on a bench, and wait patiently for it to take over your senses.
This afternoon the muddy-brown ground is strewn with peepal leaves. Squirrels are running around fearlessly, while the trees are humming with the sounds of crows and squirrels. Pigeons, huddled together in one corner, have turned that part of the garden into their very own seminar hall.
It’s impossible, however, to ignore a particularly irksome crow; but its incessant cawing is proving to be as melodic and comforting as the rhythmic rocking of a night train.
And let’s not skip the fellow humans: two men are intently watching a video on mobile phone, a pair of lovers are absorbed in one another (her face hidden in a black dupatta), a family is loitering around the Shiva’s statue, two ladies are chatting in a corner bench, and a gentleman is snoring in the next.
Indeed, the garden is exuding such easy friendly vibes that the body-language of each of these persons seems as relaxed as it must be within the privacy of their homes.
Now a brown dog appears. After scratching his stomach with his hind leg for an unusually long time, he happily ambles towards a grove of palm trees—his tongue out, tail wagging.
Suddenly, reverberations of the temple bells boom through the restful ambiance.
If you pay attention, you may also hear a peacock’s horny cry.
Each of these elements may not amount to anything by themselves but together they have sewn a patchwork of soothing harmony. The worldly concerns are drifting away like cigarette smoke. At long last, the commonplace issues of life—relationship status, office politics, etc—are beginning to appear irrelevant. One is actually able to feel a connection with one’s own breathing.
Sheetla Mata is believed to be the goddess of smallpox. As it happens, she is clearing the pus-filled poxes of the psyche too.
The temple garden of utmost tranquility