77 year-old lady I know, lives by herself in a fourth-floor flat. She has been unwell for a couple of days with an upset stomach and fever. This morning, she wakes to find smoke billowing through her flat. Coughing and panicked, she searches the flat to see what could be burning. Nothing. So what could be the cause?
A mother from the flat immediately above rings her bell and asks, "Is something burning in your flat? Because there's smoke coming into our flat on the fifth floor."
They look out of one of the windows and it seems the smoke is coming from the flat immediately below. People on the street below are stopping and pointing at the smoke.
The fourth-floor lady walks down and rings the bell. Young woman of the house opens the door and is barely visible, because the whole flat is hazy with smoke. "What's happening," asks the lady from the fourth floor, "what's causing the smoke? Is something burning?"
Comes the answer: "Puja".
In the third-floor flat, they are performing a puja, complete with a seriously smoky fire. A fire.
"The smoke is coming through my flat upstairs," says the fourth-floor lady, "and it's causing me a lot of trouble, especially because I'm ill."
"Just close your windows," says the young woman.
"But you can't disturb your neighbours like this," says the fourth-floor lady.
"What to do," says the woman, "we are performing a puja." That's explanation enough, it seems.
In the meantime, someone in the building opposite has noticed the smoke and has called the fire brigade. The fire truck arrives, the men investigate. They do nothing. Apart, that is, from stopping to berate the person who called.
"It's just a puja!" they say. "You should have checked first, before calling us!"
Yes, today I've learned that when a citizen sees smoke billowing from what looks like a fire, s/he must check that it is not a puja before calling the fire brigade.
And listening to this account, I have this thought: what good is it propitiating gods via a puja, when you're unthinking about the distress you cause your neighbours? Which god would be pleased with that?