An autorickshaw goes around the narrow, bustling lanes, the volume set to a high babble, an image of a local leader pasted prominently on its front. But it is quiet in the Infant Jesus Shrine in Viveknagar. Solitary men and women sit in the chapel, with the glow of candles for company; outside, in a group, young men are in a deep discussion; scraggly dogs snooze, in the new summer blaze.
It is also quiet in Chandrashekar's frame shop, where on the walls images of deities Ganesha and Lakshmi share space with those of Jesus and Mary. The shop doubles as his workshop; the only sounds here are of glass being neatly cut to even, perpendicular shapes.
Located just across the road from the Shrine and Church, Chandrashekar’s shop has taken various forms over the 20 years it has stood here. It began as his father’s repair shop, then an audio cassette shop. “People stopped buying those soon,” says Chandrashekar, “so I made it a frame shop, in 2001.”
Did his father teach him? “No, I slowly learned the trade, one order at a time.”
The workshop’s doors open at 8.30 a.m., and stay so till 10 p.m, as Chandrashekar and his assistant work on ten or more orders a day. And every January, he meets people from various parts of the country, who have come to attend the Infant Jesus Church Feast.
Business is brisk, but for him there is an added sense of marvel at the throngs of people who travel from around the country to visit the Shrine.
In other shops in the city, “if there are Hindu images, you won’t find other images. If it’s a shop for Muslims, it's only for Muslims, and so on,” he says.
But the religious plurality of his shop’s offerings, he says, only mirrors the actual plurality of his neighbourhood. “People here are from Neelasandra, Ejipura, Vannarpet, and Koramangala; we have always mixed together. In my own lane there are five Christian families, two Muslim families and four Hindu families. We rarely think of ourselves in those terms, though: it is just that some of us occasionally happen to visit separate venues to pray.”
The space has evidently come to transcend its religious specificities; why else, asks parish committee member Francis Jeffery, would dozens of people from Hindu and Muslim faiths come every Thursday to participate? (Thursdays are days of special masses, with separate services conducted in languages including Konkani, Telugu and Malayalam.)
Every month, Jeffery holds camps at the Shrine to assist disabled persons from the area, be they of whatever religion.
This sense, of the Shrine being a community space and not a restricted, exclusive zone, is one that you commonly get from the men and women on Bazaar Street, where the Shrine is located. Autorickshaw driver Shaffi H. has lived in Viveknagar ever since he was born; he recounts the first time he visited the shrine: he was probably two or three, he says, gesturing a little above the earth to show his height.
Holidays and special occasions meant dressing up, a visit to the shrine, and maybe a treat or two from one of the stores nearby. “All I believe is that the lord is alive; bhagwan zinda hai,” he says. “How does it matter if we call him Jesus or Krishna or Allah.”