The caretaker of the gods (Stories of our lives)

6 min read
12 Sep 2017
6 min read
942 words
From the Archive (Apr, 2016): There are only two things that Shyam dai is interested in: taking care of his temple in Thapathali and demolishing his opponents in chess
There are only two things that Shyam dai is interested in: taking care of his temple in Thapathali and demolishing his opponents in chess

Not unlike the old man who lives under the sparse canopies of the trees, in a little room built inside the premises of the temple. The 72-year-old temple-keeper, Shyam dai, has seen everything the trees have seen. That’s why when his temple survived the earthquakes unscathed, Shyam dai wasn’t too surprised (to be sure, the mound seems like a mini fortress—buttressed as it is by cement reinforcements all around, but still). He was more interested in the karmic reasons for the quakes’ occurring: he attributes the cataclysm to the ever-increasing greed among people—because they have become more and more obsessed with material possessions, and less concerned about freeing their souls of sins, and living a meaningful life. He believes that the earthquakes were god’s way of shaking people’s souls awake. For Shyam dai, the definition of a meaningful life is a life of total devotion to god. 

For the last 38 years, Shyam dai has been getting up at three every morning, and starting his day by offering prayers to his temple’s gods. He walks slowly around the temple, humming slow prayers and lighting oil lamps in front of the statues of Kumari Maa, Ganesh, Aakash Bhairav, Bhimsen, Surya Bhagwan and plenty others, which have been placed on pedestals on the temple courtyard. Every morning, before the sun rises, Shyam dai makes sure that the main statues are illuminated by the faint yellow glow of the oil lamps, from the two lampstands that face the open sanctum sanctorum area, where the main idols are enshrined. When the sunlight starts to filter through the trees, just enough for Shyam dai to make out the silhouettes of the leaves fallen from the lone peepal tree here, he starts sweeping the flagstones and gets ready for the pujas that have to be performed that day. 

Taking care of the temple is one of the two main activities that Shyam dai invests his days in. The other is beating everyone at the game of chess. Every day, at exactly 12 noon, Shyam dai padlocks the gates to the temple. With his walking stick in hand, he walks with cautious steps, to a little shop, a hub for most chess fans, in front of the Shiva temple, where his opponents, who’ve played against him for years now, wait uneasily for him to show up. He says that no one has ever been able to beat him yet, and he is still waiting for that day to come. He has perfected each and every move—his pawns, knights, bishops, all moving in synchrony to capture the opponent’s king, and win yet another game—drawing from his experience of more than four decades of playing the game, which has remained the mainstay in Shyam dai’s life since his army days. 

Shyam dai joined the army in 2022 BS, when he was 22 years old. After just two years as a private, he was promoted to corporal, because his seniors were highly impressed with his work ethic. And as he says, because of his natural knack for sports—basketball, table tennis, chess, badminton and his marksmanship. Even today, although Shyam dai’s eyesight keeps getting dimmer, he believes that no matter how far a target is placed, he can hit the bull’s eye. Thus, despite his worsening eyesight, he absolutely refuses to get a pair of glasses. His grandfather lived to 90 and never succumbed to wearing a pair of glasses, he says. Shyam dai says that as for himself, he’s calculated that he will live to be 87. He draws much strength from the temple, but he perhaps also draws sustenance from his achievements in the army. He remembers how King Mahendra had looked at him with pride, when he had helped win a game for Mahendra Police Club, and how the encouragement had pushed him to work harder. But after some 13 years, when Shyam dai lost his wife, he lost the will to serve in the army any further. And eventually decided to quit. 

He believed that his wife’s passing was but god’s will. He found comfort in his faith and decided to spend the rest of his life at the temple. Not because he has nowhere to go, or no family to call his own. He has a house in Boudha, from which he gets Rs 36,000 monthly rent, and his two daughters constantly ask him to live with them, if he so wishes. But he refuses to go anywhere else because the people who frequent the temple believe that ever since he started looking after the temple, their prayers finally started to get heard. And because Shyam dai already feels at home among his gods.