Words: Abhishek Wairagade
Images: Gaurav Thombre
The Dark Knight’s opening sequence has one of the craziest screenplays I can remember. It isn’t just about a bank robbery but by finishing off his entire crew The Joker leaves a killer impression. However, if the same scene would have been filmed in Shani Shingnapur, the results might have been slightly different. You see, the only bank in this little town has no locks, forget lockers. In fact, when the bank was inaugurated, it had no doors. No doors on a bank! Have you ever heard of something like that? However the local police thought this was one open door too many and the bank was obliged to put sliding doors. But still there are seldom any locks on it.
Welcome to the home to Lord Shani’s temple. Now I’m an atheist and think this is all mumbo-jumbo but fact is the local folklore – that anyone who steals in this village will be on the receiving end of the great lord’s wrath – means nobody whacks things. Locals tell tales of thieves losing their limbs, falling sick or even dying in horrendous ways. Such is the punishment that even Batman would love to recruit the great lord in the Justice League. Who needs superheroes when we have our own gods watching our backs? They say, ‘Incredible India’ resides in the hinterlands. They aren’t wrong.
Judge me all you want but I have been an atheist for almost over a decade. The thought of people worshipping statues with no real purpose other than the fulfilment of their own wishes just doesn’t work for me. In fact I simply can’t stand being in the vicinity of religious monuments and my parents hate that part of me. But when work comes calling, can you really say no, especially when your Ed wants you to anchor a series that is off the beaten track?
Our Kwid to the Hinterland series is all about exploring the hinterland of our country and after a visit to the Lonar crater and the Goa-that-you’ve-never-seen, we have now pointed the wheels of our long term Renault Kwid towards this holy town.
Nestled in the district of Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, is a small but bustling town of Shingnapur. Shingnapur is just like every other small town in the country with the exception of being home to Lord Shani’s temple. In Hindu mythology, the nine planets are considered god-like and are even considered holy celestial bodies. Similarly, European literature too abounds with stories of the planetary gods. Among the planets, Shani, better known as Saturn as we all remember from our geography lessons is revered as a powerful god even in Greek culture, better known as Cronus. Stories about ‘Shani’ have been popular in ancient literature as well. Shani is best described as the god who reminds you that karma is a b**@h in Hindu mythology. Literally! When you mess with Shani, you are bound to mess with yourself. And thus Shingnapur takes its cue from the Lord Shani and is famous in this part of the world for the temple. Now that you know why it is known as Shani Shingnapur, let me elaborate about this off-beat place and our partner for the series, the little Kwid.
The journey to Shani Shingnapur from Pune is well over 150 kilometres, consisting of straight six-lane highways, dual carriageways and even country roads with no tarmac. Maybe because I pump iron like a mad man, I’m not a fan of small hatchbacks even though I am well aware of their purpose in this world – to provide maximum value to customers. But when you have a Renault badge plonked on the grille of the car, you know that it is going to connect with the driver in you. I have always been a fan of the Duster and I think even the Lodgy, although being a UV, makes for a great driver’s car. This was my first long drive in a Kwid and I was looking forward to what the small hatch could do in the hands of a rather demanding driver.
Having started at five in the morning, there wasn’t a lot of traffic on the highway that connects Mumbai to Nagpur, two of the larger cities in the state. Blame it on the fact that the horrific Koregaon Bhima riots had taken place just a week prior to our drive. And this called for the right leg to be extended all the way down. The 1-litre motor in the tiny bay never really feels underpowered and overtaking long trailers is easy-peasy. Cruising on the highway at three-digit speeds is child’s play and the Kwid manages all of this without raising your blood pressure. I have earned the tag of a fuel guzzler in the office but to my surprise the Kwid delivered a fuel efficiency of over 21kmpl even with a right foot as heavy as that of a T-Rex! Thanks to the Renault’s super abilities, hardly over three hours had passed before we entered the massive entrance gate to the holy town, and with no fatigue at all.
The tiny but handsome Kwid not only enthralled me with its performance on the highway but also took me by surprise as we entered Shani Shingnapur. Like all other villages in India, the place is full of pot-holed roads, though in most parts there are no roads at all. But the Kwid takes it all in its stride and cocoons you in its large cabin, for a car its size. Renault’s SUV genes have filtered down to the Kwid which is prominently visible in the way it looks but the hatch is equally capable. The ride quality is excellent over all road surfaces allowing you to explore the world in peace. As you might have already noticed, we did traverse a lot of bad roads but never did the underbody scrape. The butch looks also stand out among its rivals and in this part of the country the Kwid did get second glances. Also, the air-conditioning deserves a special mention. It is excellent and even works well when the temperature gauge is hovering above 35 degrees Celsius.
As we walked around we noticed houses and grocery stores that not only were open at all times but didn’t have doors. This is a concept that’s very hard to wrap one’s head around and on asking shopkeepers if there ever was the fear of their personal space being violated ‘no’ was the immediate answer. They feel that Lord Shani is there to protect them all and hence the doors must remain open for the lord at all times. And so in keeping with the spirit of things even I insisted that the Kwid be left unlocked, with all our belongings on the backseat (minus marks to Gaurav for refusing to leave his camera gear at the mercy of the lord) as we went to pay Lord Shani a visit. I don’t think Shani Shingnapur has turned me into a believer, but it has changed my perspective a wee bit for sure. I have started to look for the silver lining and the inherent goodness in man. I was never going to find gods in statues, but in a world where you and your car are given a thorough frisking before being let into a hotel or mall it’s such a pleasure to find innocence and trust. Honesty too.
And that’s what the Kwid is all about. While staying honest to its hatchback roots the kwid ended up surprising someone (me!) who looks for the thrill of driving in everything that moves. Sometimes finding joy in the tiniest of things gives you a sense of fulfilment that is rare in this day and age.