07:47 hrs, At The Temple

My country is a land of 330 million gods, and over 2 million places of worship; that we know of. You might wake up one morning and find your favorite tree hideout covered in multicolored ribbons and worshipped and you wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

We are a land of religious zealots, religious politics and religious riots. But, the majority of our people are just ordinary people searching for some faith and finding it in one of the various ways of life that are preached as a religion.

The reason I’m talking about religion is because, as the title says, today, I’ve been brought to visit a temple by my mother. I protested hotly. But, deaf ears. So, here I am, walking around the structure and writing this in my head.

I don’t identify myself as an atheist. Because, even if I don’t believe in ritualistic religion or a god with form and name, I do take some comfort in blaming a higher power when things go wrong in life. Like my mother said, when something is out of your hands, don’t you ask for divine guidance? A miracle?

My answer to that is: miracles don’t happen. At least, not in a divine sense. The miracles that I know of occurred because one person decided to care about a fellow person. And so, a village becomes self-sustaining in spite of the drought; a cardiomyopathic patient receives a young beating heart; an orphan gets adopted and a child on the streets gets admitted to school.

Now, if you want to see divine providence in the kindness of people, that’s your prerogative. But, I prefer trusting in what I see and what I see is that, as much as we complain that the world is going to dogs, it’s not really.

Yes, neighbours don’t know neighbours; there are too many selfies and kids talk back more than they ever used to. But also, social issues are able to be discussed and argued in an open space, medical care is flourishing by leaps and bounds and ever since demonetisation happened in my country, I’ve been feeling a sudden kinship with my fellow broke countrymen.

My philosophy is: having faith is not wrong. Having beliefs is not wrong. But, when your faith or when your belief system is coming in the way of your humanity, then, something is surely wrong. When your faith justifies the killing of your fellow people; when your beliefs make you insensitive to the grief of someone who lost a loved one; when your “God” apparently lets you sleep peacefully at night even after the role you’ve played in the violent destruction of something or some one, then, please take a good long look at yourself- because something is very very wrong.

A person’s average lifespan, as of now, is 79 years. And throughout these 79 years, the innate survival instinct that we are all born with, keeps reminding us, however subconsciously, that in the end, we are alone. 79 years is a long time to live with that kind of a reminder. So, it’s understandable that we turn to a higher power who knows all, who sees all and who has the ability to grant wishes. It’s understandable that we make up rituals and prayers and protocols that will, allegedly, bring us closer to that higher power. All of this is understandable. But, when you shell out a hundred bucks for the temple priest without second thought, but, turn your face away from the one-legged beggar outside its gate, I don’t understand. When, in your hurry to make your prescribed rounds around the sanctum, you push and pull with scant thought for the rest of the devotees around you, I refuse to understand. And when people start killing people in the name of god, I’m horrified, I’m furious, I’m heart-broken, but, in no way am I close to understanding.

See, I’ve been told by my mother that faith can bring about miracles. Religion makes me question faith. So, I refuse to be a part of any religion; I refuse to indulge in rituals and rules. Instead, I’ve decided to place my faith in people. In the miracles I see happening everyday: when an old man is helped down the stairs by a stranger, when an older woman gives up her seat for a young pregnant lady and when a friend stands up to bullies for her friend; in these, I will place my faith.

For any act of kindness, that you’ve ever shown, I thank you.





A reason to smile

A reason to smile on 01/07/2015

Today was a hot day and to my grandfather, for some reason, it meant bank day. I had the job of driving him around because otherwise he’d rather walk than shell out money for over-charging auto-wallahs.

So, there I was sitting in the car outside the bank, while grandpa made his slow way up the 8 stairs leading inside, holding the railing tightly with one hand, the other holding up his white dhoti and placing each step with utmost care. A few minutes passed by until my attention was captured by a young man I could see walking in the rear view mirror, a passbook clutched in his left hand.

He had a gait that was knock-kneed and off-balance. His arms were in flexed position at the elbow and the wrist and his body was flailing wildly as he energetically made his way towards the bank. He reached my car and grasped its body for support while he flailed past it. He held on to a parked auto next and then, a couple of parked scooters before he reached the 8-step staircase. He stopped here for a while and got some of his breath back. His body language screamed triumph at making it so close to his goal. Eventually, he grabbed on to the railing with both his hands, the passbook crumpled between them. He took a step up with one leg; then, lifted the other next to it. He paused. Then, repeated the process with the next step. It was a slow progress and every time he lifted a foot, I would hold my breath, afraid that it would fall short of his intended distance. It didn’t. He was halfway up the stairs now.

My grandfather came out of the door. He stood at the threshold checking his belongings while the young man paused at the 4th step. Then, at the exact same moment both of them reached the railing with their hands and their eyes met. Grandpa made to take a step back. But, before he could so much as move, the young man was down one step and then another and soon, he was back to the zero-step. He smiled up at my grandfather and waved at him to come down the stairs first. My grandfather’s face was full of gratitude and my face had a smile big enough to rip it open.

It was a simple gesture. But, suddenly, the day didn’t seem so hot anymore.