As I was reading about little Pi’s experiments with different religions in the book ‘Life of Pi‘, it brought back memories of my own spiritual expedition in the childhood. I think as children we were all curious about God and the different ways which religions choose to reach him. I have heard a couple of my Hindu friends telling me how they liked to go to and pray in a church and I guess it is the curiosity and adventure of breaking out of the norms and experiencing something anew that makes them do so (though some Hindus who may have gone to a church or some Christians who may have gone to a temple would later in their life quote the experience as an example of their secular credentials which may not always stand testimony). Likewise, I was fascinated by the interiors of the temples, the monks and the poojas.
I wanted to do a pooja of my own but that wasn’t easy. I had to find a nilaviLakku, the traditional lamp, and though you could spot one in the churches it wasn’t a regular household item in a catholic home. So I had to make do with an unused plastic incense stick holder that I got from somewhere. I took a piece of a dried palm leaf and fit it into the plastic holder and lit it with a matchstick. Right in front of the ‘lamp’ was a picture of a monk that I tore up from a textbook (whom I would later identify as Adi Shankara). All these had to be done in discreet, so I did this in a small portion of a tiny room in my house one evening while everyone else in the family were assembled in the main hall. Then I prayed, did whatever I could to imitate a pooja that was seen in the movies while ensuring that no one else was watching. In those days, I wanted to be a monk in an ashram somewhere in a remote hill area.
One of the biggest revelations in my childhood Christian spiritual life came from a lady in the neighborhood. She was poor, but a devout catholic. I was so caught up to the idea of a heaven and hell by then through the religious teachings. A heaven where it’s all green and beautiful and the hell with eternal fire. The idea of a furious god was frightening in a way. This lady once told me, “I will tell you a secret. Do not be afraid of hell, because there is none”. I was surprised. It was so against the catholic teaching yet it was so comforting to know that I don’t have to be ‘afraid’ of a god and no hell is waiting for me to fry me up above the clouds. She continued to spoke of a god full of love than a fearsome judge.
In the school, we used to make fun of each others god and religion. To claim superiority over the other but not in an adult manner. It was more like children arguing ‘my pen is better than yours’ or something. I think as children, religion and god were seen more as possessions. But then we grew up only to make those private possessions an obsession which eventually lead to violence.