Sunday, March 13, 2011

Faithfully Yours

What do a Jain nun, a low caste theyyam dancer, an upper caste idol maker, an illiterate folk singer from Rajasthan and another from Bengal and an HIV+ devdasi have in common? Not their language, not their nationality, not their religion. Faith – that’s what makes them alike.

If you have read William Dalrymple’s remarkably written and extremely relevant Nine Lives, you would have come across the stories of all these people. If you have not read it, I would strongly recommend it. It is a simply written book, objective yet understanding. Never judgemental, never harsh but always insightful.

The book reaffirmed what I have always believed – that it’s the Faith that matters. Nothing else. Religion is just an outer shell. A name given for identification. A protocol that one can follow. But at the heart, Faith is the bigger and truer emotion. Everything else is incidental.

Because what is Faith after all? Faith is knowing everything will be alright. Faith is hoping that your grandma is now a star smiling benevolently upon you. Faith is the child’s certainty that Santa would bring her gifts if she is good. Faith is praying so that India wins the match. Faith is adding your best wishes to Egyptian and Libyan revolutionaries. Faith is even building temples for Rajnikanth. Faith is being strong. Faith is simply believing in Him or Her or It – whatever suits you.

When I look back upon my own life, I find that while I always had a practising religion, it was my belief in God, a greater Providence or the Force, whatever you may choose to call it, that saw me through all the difficult times. Whether it was a spat with my closest friends or bad exam results. My first experience of seeing someone I care for die or my first day at work. At all these times, I believed and prayed that someone up there would guide me, keep watch over me.

And I like to think that this is true for all, or at least, most of us. Our prayers may take different forms and incantations but instinctively we are appealing to that entity or being beyond the skies. The blessings of our elders and the wishes of our friends are never directed by which religion they follow.

So many of my friends have found similar peace praying inside a church and inside a Buddhist temple. So many of us have travelled all the way to a dargah (the resting place of a Sufi saint) and asked for a mannat (a form of prayer, where the devotee promises the deity a comeback visit if his wish is granted). There are instances of temples which are maintained and revered by non-Hindu devotees.

Don’t these prove that it’s Faith and Faith alone that drives us when we pray? What does it matter whether you wear a cross or face west while praying? Who cares if you worship an idol and somebody else prays in front of a holy book? Who cares if you cannot recite the right shlokas or do not observe all the rituals?

I believe in angels and don’t care a whit whether they wear halos or wings, whether they speak Arabic or Hebrew, Sanskrit or Greek. Whether they carry an ektara or a harp. Whether they are white and golden or dusky and dark.

That is why it comes as such a shock when people persist in classifying people by their religion, race, caste, language etc. Everyone feels that their community is wronged and that their people who are victims of prejudice. But who are these people – ours and theirs? When would we realize that all of us have more in common than we give credence? If we were all the same, would we not become robotic and mechanical? Something straight out of a sci-fi horror novel.

But we may yet learn to see our Faith reflected in others. Maybe we can begin a quiet revolution for that. Amen.

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