‘This is a personal story of an individual who was born in the 80’s and like most kids growing up had influences from different religions through people and places. This is a piece that tries to bring commonness and provoke your thoughts on religion and humanity. An open mind with a welcome mat in front of your beautiful mind’s entrance is necessary to proceed’
Growing up in a small town, where farmers managed to survive and fight against urbanization and industrialization of their lands, I had several encounters with kids who worked in farm lands and small shops, they seemed more happy and lively than my sister and me. I never saw them go to school or study but they always made the best partners in street games such as Lagori, a game involving a ball and a pile of flat stones, or for that matter, the various games of Marbles. These games could only be enjoyed when you had a big group. I do not remember a day go by without some excitement, fatigue and of course companionship and a sense of team spirit. Nobody cared where we came from or what our parents did for a living. This was a small town highly influenced by big cities with various political and religious agendas. All that complex business was left to the adults but for us, kids, we had better things to do and so we did.
An Auto-Rickshaw would pick my sister and me, in front of our house and take us about 25 Km into the city and drop us in front of our school. It took somewhere between 40 min to an hour going one way. We would pass in front of temples, churches, Mosques and other religious buildings and the houses of some of the farmers kids. Inside the auto Rickshaw, we were a total six kids, varying from 5 years of age to 13 years. Silence would prevail in the auto rickshaw for most of the time and occasionally we would hear the 13 year old speak with the 8 year old, I was 7 years old and wondered why they would never speak to me. Any attempt to talk would be either ignored or answered indirectly. My parents always taught us to be friendly and respect our neighbors and the one’s around us, even if they were strangers. My sister was always my best companion and the view of the streets, people, street vendors and the on going traffic kept me very busy. We always looked forward to reaching home especially if somebody special was visiting us.
My grandmother would visit us often through out the year and bring us special treats and savories but the most important goods that she would bring was a deep understanding of spirituality and religion. I would wait for her to get home so I could discuss about various matters. ‘ Why there are so many different religious buildings? Why do some people do not talk with others or treat them badly? Why somebody became homeless and most importantly, Who is this God and why is he so important to many? Why do so many people fight with each other and was it because of him or for him?’ These questions were just the beginning, my grandmother loved us very much and she always had an answer and sometimes the answers were in the form of great mythological stories and other times in the form of questions which still haunt me to this day.
Growing up in a the 90’s was a very exciting time, color television, cable TV, Nintendos and All Terrain Bikes, watching Hindi cinemas etc,. Commercialization caught on fire and spread to every section of the society. Suddenly, there was something you could buy even if you did not need it, or supposedly to make one’s life better. Amidst all this, an important part of the teenage years was identifying what one’s place was in the society, which meant what school would one go to and most importantly what profession will one take up in the future. The society was so fixed upon all of these superficial and yet a vital part of the Great Indian Dream that parents, teachers and the society gave us different and mixed ideas, perspective and understanding of one’s own identity. Religion was another force that somehow was ranked above all the others and every chance it got, it was bound to influence and change our understanding of life for the good and sometimes for the worse.
I had no interest in religious partaking, and yet I was forced to witness, join and participate in festivities and activities. At first, it felt like I did not belong there but eventually found a place of my own. I participated in volunteering opportunities in the form of manning stalls, hauling things, serving food, to name a few, was all that I devoted myself during these big religious gatherings. Some of the questions about life in general were answered in the form of self realization and I developed a strong sense of religious freedom and started seeing all different sides of India’s religious fabric that made somebody what they were rather than what the society wanted them to be. It was almost like I was in some type of a big box, inside this big box was a smaller box with my own thoughts and understandings. I was the gate keeper and kept religious noise out but let the spiritual music pass through.
Fast forward couple of decades, teenage experiences turned into wisdom and like everybody, I went from being a child to becoming a father and many important roles in between. I continue to grow as an individual with more understanding about this world to only realize that I am just starting out and there is more to it. This may be my story but also believe this could be a variation of others. The essence of this story can be summarized by quoting a famous singer’s song.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you
- John Lennon – ‘Imagine’