Bachi Karkaria's Tales from TJ Road: When a cult has its headquarters in the neighbourhood
Through this fortnightly column, Tales From TJ Road, Bachi Karkaria tells the story of Mumbai's metromorphosis
Read more columns in this series here.
The Nagrani of TJ Road
Like all Mumbai, this column’s eponymous road is home to everybody, caste and class no bar; celebration baar-baar. As for creed, I’ve already mentioned the mandirs, mosques, church, even a makeshift gurdwara. But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
The southern end of TJ Road is pinned with a rare elegant building, all cascading bougainvillea and pointed-arch windows. When it was nearing completion in 2011, I’d thought that, amidst the ever-changing shops, and never-moving kabadi-wallas, we were finally getting a boutique-ful arcade. Instead, it turned out to be the centre of a cult with a predominantly lower middle-class following. That of Gururani Nargis Nagkanya Yogini and Jimmy Nagputra Yogiraj, born Parsi but who claim to be the incarnations of Parvati and Shiva, in their snake avatar. Devotees refer to them as ‘Divya Jyoti’, Divine Lights.
The hoarding at the TJ Road centre announces a grand Janmotsav for Jimmy Nagputra Yogiraj tomorrow, 7 February. I thought I would slip in and feel the fervour. Access denied! Ravi, their tight-lipped spokesman and the only one authorised to give out information, reminded me that this celebration was virtual, and only regular darshanees could be given the link’. Nor would he give the exact number of followers, ‘must be 5-6,000’.
Before lockdown, I would see the orderly throngs streaming into the hall, all distinctively — and somewhat incongruously — dressed. Men in pale, long-sleeved shirts, dark trousers, ties complete with tie pin, and the Parsi maroon velvet prayer caps. The women in shiny nylon saris, their heads covered in an old-fashioned, pinned back manner with pallav or scarf. All (including the centre’s watchmen) wear their faith upon their chest, a badge embossed with hologram images of the duo in their chosen nagshakti form.
Gururani Nargis has not been seen of late, though Ravi stoutly demolished my assumption that she had passed into more ethereal divinity. According to their ‘advertorials’ in the Parsi Times, ‘Shri Paak Gururani Nargis Yogini laid the foundation of a Divine mission over 60 years ago for the welfare of mankind on earth… Shri Paak Jimmy Yogiraj’s sacrifice has been in equal measure.’ Btw, ‘Paak’ is the honorific that Parsis use for Ahura Mazda and His prophet, Zarathushtra.
In her less-exalted past, Nargis reportedly worked at the Railway’s District Controller of Stores in Mahalaxmi. Her spiritual transformation began after a colleague reportedly ‘shattered her heart’. She acquired enough prowess in astrology for people to start believing that she had a higher connection. Even less is known about her consort, other than that his full name is Jimmy Bharucha, and that he used to live at Parel’s AH Wadia Baug till he moved to the cult’s first ‘darbar’ at Ulhasnagar, 52 km from Mumbai. Naturally, he too comes with a mythology. In a rather sacrilegious echo to that of Zarathushtra, the cult’s 2005 journal wrote that the ‘divine child’ did not cry at the time of his birth. Instead, “With his eyes closed for a considerably long time ‘SHRI PAAK JIMMY (YOGIRAJ)’ had a smile on ‘HIS’ face.”
One doesn’t know when and how he stepped up to his ordained role, but the duo soon began to attract a sizable constituency. Devotees believe that the couple’s divine powers help their followers overcome deadly diseases, financial challenges, family conflicts, mental illnesses, everything. Not many seem interested in the stated higher mission, ‘the salvation of the soul’.
A long-time disciple was quoted as saying “If you simply come for a darshan of the Divine Lights with an open mind, your work will be done…Whether you are in the hall or standing at the edge of the ground, you will be equally blessed by their holy vibrations.”
Even before social distancing, I doubt if darshans at the newish TJ Road centre had the drama of the Ulhasnagar ‘darbar’, where, says Ravi ‘occasional darshans continue’. There, devotees would start arriving past 10 pm, waiting patiently in prayer for the ‘Divine Lights’, who ‘came when they wanted’. Reportedly it was all so reverentially silent that, despite the multitudes camping out in the open in the thick of the night, no one in that industrial town seemed to mind. At TJ Road, the crowd would spill over from the huge hall into the compound, again with no protest. How could anyone complain about such subdued piety considering that this neighbourhood is notorious for year-round amplified sound in the garb of varied devotion?
When the divine duo did arrive — with a motorcycle escort — the chants would rise: ‘Jai Sri Jimmy Nagputra Yogiraj, Jai Sri Gururani Nagkanya Yogini’. They would make their way through the prostrated crowd, Gururani in a maxi with dazzling jewelry, Sri Jimmy in sparkling robe. The crowning glory for both was, well, crowns. Once ‘enthroned’ on the dais, a live orchestra would strike up for devotional songs. Till ill health stopped him, it was led by Ram Laxman, composer for the likes of Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! For true belief, there must be a suspension of disbelief.
So, you see, TJ Road hides much beneath its mundane clamour of honks, hawkers and the hum of aspiration.
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