India's new national highway, part crushed rock and asphalt, part yellow brick road, swings through Bangalore as it races across southern India bearing the turbocharged hopes of a billion people from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. In downtown Bangalore the wheels roll to a stop, briefly, beside an ornate, 50-foot-high Hindu temple where every night a cheerful little man in horn-rimmed glasses named R. L. Deekshith, the temple priest, delivers the Hindu equivalent of curbside service. His specialty is the ritual called a puja, in which he spreads the munificence of the god Lord Ganesh upon a parade of newly purchased vehicles—cars, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, and auto rickshaws, along with the occasional bicycle or bullock cart—whose owners wouldn't think of hitting the road without the blessings of a happy, four-armed god with the head of an elephant who brings prosperity and good fortune, particularly to machines and those setting out on something new.
Menaka Shekaran, a 23-year-old accountant for a company that imports exercise equipment, is waiting to have Mr. Deekshith conduct a puja over her silver motor scooter, which she just purchased this afternoon. Bright-eyed and slender, Menaka is dressed in the fashion one sees on thousands of young Indian women on motorcycles—designer jeans, brightly colored tunic, black heels, and a white scarf over her hair, wrapped to cover her nose and mouth.