After taking you through a gazillion tiny confusing lanes that seem like alleys from Gangs of Wasseypur and getting you rid of your tid-bit loose change across unknown ashrams and temples, they guide you into their casino. I had to call it that because that’s where they hit the jackpot. They’ll take you to a temple that opens with a large gate, followed by a huge tulsi plant right in the middle of the entrance verandah, growing on top of an elevated platform. Pundits and pilgrims have diyas, incense sticks and flowers placed in front of this plant.
As you begin to walk inside, you will notice that the floor is made of white marble tiles with names of people written on every tile. Every wall of this temple will look the same from inside - white tiles with names on them. The guide will now ask you to relax for a while. You will be told to circumambulate the plant and prey for your own and your family’s wellbeing. Next, you’ll be guided into a smaller room, where a curtain awaits you. You will be told to sit down till punditji comes for a special pooja that will be organised especially for you. One of the priests that you might have noticed smoking in the verandah, would now take over, as your guide awaits you outside.
This priest will help you prey, ask you to chant a few mantras and suddenly bam! He’ll ask you to donate a hefty amount in the name of God. The price usually starts with Rs51,000, gradually reducing to somewhere close to Rs12,000. If you were to talk amongst yourself, he will forbid you from doing so. He will try and intimidate you in every possible manner. He might as well be forcing you to pay the money. If not the entire amount, he will try to extort as much as he can.
He will tell you to donate in the name of charity, an amount that would then be used to place another tile in the temple with your name on it. Expect to be told that the tiles all around have been donated by people like you and that many of them have gone on to have great fortunes. There may be others sitting around you, who are actually his accomplices. They would declare their donations loudly with humungous numbers to make you think as if all this is legit. You know the drill by now, so you must know what not to do. But be ready for some action!
If were to refuse to pay, they will start cursing you. Trust me those pundits actually start abusing tourists and pilgrims. Sitting in the house of God, they do that without flinching! Oh, I almost forgot. You have a guide waiting outside. The guide gets his commission for bringing you here. Every penny that you donate here adds to his profits as well. He too will join the band of conviction.
Eventually, he will have to let you go after you pay his pre-decided fee. I remember taking my relatives there very recently and telling them not to seek a guide. But faith has no bounds and we ended up hiring one of the goons. We agreed at Rs31 as his fee (yes, in 2019!) He was good at telling stories and explaining everything till we reached the Tile Temple. I knew the drill, so pulled my relatives out at the right moment. This of course triggered the guide, who had a Pan in his mouth all along. I could hardly understand what he said after that. I paid him Rs50 (he deserved it for walking with us under the Sun for a good 30-40 minutes with all his storytelling skills) and set him off.