Walking alone has some advantages, especially if you are not glued to your phone. Strangers wish you, ask for directions, offer you deals on ACs, water purifier and other things. Among the ‘other things’ category, fall these two very respectable women who wanted to speak to me on the road. About what? How to end all suffering. They handed me a pamphlet which said Jesus will end all suffering. This in a posh Mumbai suburb, bang in front of a Ganpati temple (Who’s afraid of right wing activists?), not some remote rural area.
What was I suffering from? They did not ask, but anyway I was okay with their assuming that everyone suffers from something and so must I. Their Church had asked them to spread this message. And also invite people to a gathering later this month. You know where all this leads to.
Many years ago, when I was working in a rural college in Maharashtra, a fellow teacher had handed me a similar pamphlet. That was the homework given by his Church. I wonder what prompts these ‘do-gooders’, whatever be their faith, to seek followers to their flock.
I have a good friend, Hindu, married to a Christian girl. They go to both places of worship as do their children. When the woman goes to the temple, she worships as all others do. No one notices her. But when they go for Sunday mass, the reverend father never fails to ask my friend if he is now ready to convert.
On a recent visit to my native village in Kanyakumari, the driver narrated, how some reverend brothers in his local church, kept persuading his family to convert. Among the many ‘apples’ they offered was free education for his children, even if they wanted to go abroad. But God has warned Man against temptation; the driver says that one day he and his neighbours physically drove away the brothers with a warning!
I have nothing against Christianity or Christians. In fact, my entire schooling has been in an institution run by Jesuit priests and nuns. I have lot of Christian friends of all sects and sub-sects. I can recite the Angelus and Hail Mary and quite a few other prayers. A beautiful Church stood on our grounds and I, like my friends, learned to walk across the pews, making sure to kneel at the aisle. We enjoyed watching weddings, communions, even funerals in the Church. I remember borrowing the Bible which my friends carried for Catechism classes, and have enjoyed the fascinating stories of Jesus and his miracles, just as I enjoyed reading myths and mythology of many faiths including my own. Was there a desire to convert? The initial glamour and style of the Church, faded as I grew and my outlook broadened and I know Christianity as one more religion of the world.
I have never felt compelled to display any outward symbols of my faith – ‘mala’, ring or colours on my forehead. I hardly participate in ‘pujas’ or rituals. No one in my family or friends’ circle have minded this. Nor has God sent any messenger to call me or warn me. “God’s in his heaven” and everything is alright with me.
Right from our primary Civics books to our Modern History books, we have been told, ‘India is a secular nation’. One of my professors interpreted this in a very practical way. He used to say – ‘secular’ does not mean ‘respect for all religion’ – it means ‘no religion matters’. It appeals to me. Why do we carry our faith to the roads, to our workplaces, to our social gatherings, everywhere? This indeed is our suffering – that our religions are the weakness used by manipulators of all kinds. Why do Gods who are believed capable of saving humanity, need such saviours?
Once we leave our homes, we are students, workmen, professionals, traders. When you want a good doctor, teacher, plumber or whatever, do you ask what religion he/she belongs to, or do you check how good they are at their work? My most trusted optician is a Parsi, when I want materials or threads for embroidery I go to a Muslim locality, my regular carpenter is a Sikh.
Am I complaining about these missionaries and their persistent attempts to save my soul from my ‘heathen’ religion and uplift me? No, I am very thankful to them. Today I respect my faith even more; a faith that worships the elements even before all this talk about conservation ever began; a faith that is so inclusive and expansive that it includes practitioners and non-practitioners; a culture and tradition that is confident enough not want to convert others. Truly, Hinduism is a way of life!