There is so much skill in human hands.
That was the thought that passed through my mind, in the operating theatre at Aravind. We were watching Dr.Haripriya operate on cataracts. With a calm deftness, she makes a tiny slit in the eye, pulverizes the cataract, suctions it out, slips in the new lens and fixes it in place. She does all this while looking through a microscope. Before the patient can feel even a twinge of discomfort, the operation is over. And she practices her skill over and over again, doing between 10 to 12 operations an hour, for more than five hours per day, everyday.
This marvel of talent and practice bringing about perfection came back to me in a completely different context.
I recently went with my aunt to pick up some utensils she had given for polishing. If you had to follow instructions to the store, it would read like this:
Go to the old part of Chennai. The dense part of town, with rows of jewellery stores huddled together. Park your car near the police station. Walk down the main street, dodging autos and people pushing bicycles laden with fruit. Turn left and then right, and then right again. The lanes get narrower and narrower. Wade through a vegetable market. Keep an eye out for the temple. Not the big temple, but the small temple with the powerful deity. Join people bobbing in front of the temple entrance, too busy to take slippers off and go inside for a longer session. On their way to work, or school or just an errand, we do it for a quick prayer, for good luck or just as a way to say ‘hello’ to the god inside. Turn left at that temple. Skip over hay and lots of cow dung. Every now and then leap onto people’s front door-sills, to prevent being run-over by the series of delivery trucks that blare past regardless of road width. At the end of the tiniest lane, with hardly a board to proclaim its presence is the store.
Turn in and you are transported into a different world. To greet you (and scare away the evil eye), is a magnificent six feet tall, statue of a devi. Made of polished brass, her large eyes look out, straight, not seeking but demanding your silent, overawed worship. Her six arms hold a weapon each. And yet there is some familiarity – – hers is the face on temple facades. Hers is the face of little girls in the lanes. Nose ring, jewellery, and a beautiful sari complete the formidable presence.
The store caters to the temple business, creating images of gods and goddesses in brass and mixed metal. They are packed and shipped to Australia, Germany or the United States. Business is booming. The polishing business that my aunt is using is only a small part of what they do. Yet, we are treated as honoured guests. Seeing our curiosity we are encouraged to wander the warren of rooms and admire the work. Our package is ready but “madam, how can you leave before drinking our special chai?” Tiny stools are found to perch on. Special chai arrives in plastic cups that are about three inches high. Delicious.
Our package arrives and is unpacked – – ten pieces, everything from a big brass pot (used in earlier times to store rice), to a heavy weight given to small babies to play with. So much work has gone into restoring them. Covered in decades of dirt, they are now gleaming pieces, worthy of display. And yet, when the bill is brought to us, it is tiny. We shake our heads in disbelief, pay and make our way out.
As we weave our way out, a big brass bell is rung. Its resounding boom fills the small room with a beautiful sound. The storekeeper presses something into each of our palms. I assume it’s their business card. It is. But along with the card, is a tiny one-inch high Ganapati, in brass. The Remover of Obstacles, sculpted to perfection.