This post is part of a series of micro-travelogues describing the experience of a westerner during seven weeks in India.
I’m in a taxi in the western Indian state of Goa, a sun-drenched surfer’s paradise known for good seafood, wild parties and easy access to illicit drugs. Like most of India, to my western eyes it’s a hard-to-grasp mishmash of poverty and prosperity, of vitality and color, of incredible beauty and unbelievable filth. It’s also the only place I’ve ever visited where all of the world’s major religions seem to coexist in at least some level of harmony. There are lots of huge Christian churches (courtesy of the Portuguese colonial rulers), but there are also impressive collections of Islamic mosques, Hindu temples, and other religious structures I can’t even identify. Given this obvious attitude of religious tolerance, I guess the shrine on my taxi driver’s dashboard shouldn’t surprise me.
It consists of three figurines glued to the dashboard and sprinkled by a handful of fresh flower petals. It’s no great surprise to see these little shrines in Indian taxis—if you’ve ever experienced Mumbai traffic then you understand the need for divine intervention. It’s not the fact that the shrine exists that gives me pause, it’s the figurines themselves. Two of them are typical Indian god figures, brightly colored and festooned with jewels. I recognize the one with the elephant head as Ganesh (he’s easy for a westerner to spot), but the other one is a mystery. It’s generally humanoid but with too many arms, but like Ganesh, it is full of cartoonish color and energy.