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.

 

*END*

 

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Picking Up The Pieces

“What were you thinking?” squeaked the mouth on the floor.

“What were you thinking?” Colonel Batra shot back.

An entity with one arm and half a leg dragged itself over to the mouth, “I’ve often been told that I should stop running my mouth.” A toothy grin flashed from the mouth now nestled in a dirty palm.

Batra sighed. “What was I thinking?” he thought to himself as he looked around. His butt- a piece of his butt was missing and as a man rather fond of his butt, he was determined to find it.

He walked past two fingers and a kidney. Something that looked like a Gluteus beckoned to him from the left and he pounced.

“That’s mine!” a severed hand clamped over his leftover finger.

He jumped. “How on earth are you doing that?” he whirled towards the one-armed entity and snapped.

“I’m using the force,” the solemnity in the mouth’s voice didn’t match the twinkle in its eyes.

“Damn kid…dead and still joking around…” Batra grumbled as he pulled his hand away.

The entity was now beside him and offering a piece of flesh with its single hand. “Why don’t we think of this as my version of an olive branch?”

“My butt!” Batra snatched it from the hand and pressed it into his torn behind. It merged seamlessly into its place as if it had been waiting for the opportunity.

Batra sighed in relief. “I always thought my butt was my best feature,” said the 50 year old army officer.

“It is a nice butt. Felt quite meaty,” replied the 23 year old terrorist.

Once upon a minute, they had come face to face- gun to grenade. The officer was defending his base from the bomber; the terrorist was promoting his belief through the bomb. There was that split second when their eyes met. Then, they were dead.

Later that day, a terrorist cell will make a legend out of the young man’s name. Later the same day, the old officer would be honoured as a martyr that died in the line of duty. Neither had wanted to die. But, in that split second none of these thoughts entered their heads.

“Seriously, what was I thinking?” Batra mumbled as he hopped towards the wall, his leg tucked under his arm.

“The question should be: why didn’t you think?” came the cheery voice from behind him. The head was now re-attached to the torso and the entity ceased to be an entity and became a person. He slid down the wall beside the now fully-reassembled officer. “Don’t you need your fingers?”

“I only need one,” Batra held up his hand with the single remaining middle finger.

The terrorist snorted and opened his mouth. Then, closed it. The smile slipped from his face as he looked up at the officer he killed.

“Do you hate me?”

Batra moved the facial muscles to rise his eyebrows.

“That looks very weird when you don’t have eyebrows.”

“And whose fault is that?”

The young terrorist’s equally hairless face flushed. “Sorry…” he mumbled.

“What’s your name?”  Batra asked to break the silence that had fallen between them.

“Abrar,” came the quiet answer.

“Age?”

“23”

“First gun?”

“.22”

“Mine too!”

Abrar looked up with wide eyes at the excited officer. Slowly, his face creased into a smile.

“I used to love my rifle. I was only six then, so it was almost as tall as me. But, I would clean it every day and I would love to hold it, even if I wasn’t shooting!” Abrar fell back against the wall as the memories assaulted him.

“Ah…I know that feeling.”

The silence that fell between them now was more companionable.

“Do you hate me?” the terrorist’s question thickened the air again.

“I did. I hated you so much I would have shot you without a second thought.” The air became thicker.

“But…you didn’t.” the small voice almost lost its way in the miasma between them before reaching the officer.

“I know. I was surprised too,” Batra shook his head and shrugged. “But, what does it matter? I’m dead now. So, if it’s anything to you, I don’t hate you anymore.”

Abrar nodded. “At least, you died a hero,” he whispered.

“So did you,” replied the martyred colonel, “Just…to a different set of people.”

The air lightened and the companionable silence returned.

“You know, I read the Koran,” Batra started.

“Oh?”

“It’s a book open to interpretation,” he turned to look at his partner in death, “Just like any other religious book.”

Abrar nodded. “Yes, that’s true.”

“Then, did you ever wonder how it would’ve been if you had adopted a more peaceful interpretation?” Batra’s lopsided eyes didn’t leave the young man’s lopsided face.

“All the time,” came the reply, “But, it didn’t matter. Because good boys don’t ask questions. They follow orders and I wanted to be a good boy.”

“Ah! People-pleaser, aren’t you?”

“That’s my weakness.”

“So, let’s say you meet Messiah now. What do you think you’ll say?”

The dead terrorist guffawed. “What were you thinking? That’s what I’d say!”

Batra laughed, “I thought good boys didn’t ask questions?”

“I’m dead now. What does it matter?” Abrar winked. “So, what would you say?”

“Ah…” Batra let out loud sigh, “I’m not much for talking. But, I believe it’s a sign that the only finger left on my hand is the middle one.”

The terrorist placed a hand on the officer’s shoulder. “You have a lot of growing up to do, old man.”

“And you have a lot of Sorrys to say, young terrorist,” Batra shrugged off the hand from his shoulder, “Let’s go. It’s time.”

 

 

The mourning comrades had lit the fire, one in consecration of a martyr, another in desecration of a terrorist. Leaping flames consumed the remains of hero and villain alike and nobody noticed a well-shaped butt and a toothy grin walking away.

 

*END*