Chapter 16

Chapter 16 – From “The Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

We are all born like Catholics, aren’t we–in limbo, without religion, until some figure introduces us to God? After that meeting the matter ends for most of us. If there is a change, it is usually for the lesser rather than the greater; many people seem to lose God along life’s way. That was not my case. The figure in question for me was an older sister of Mother’s, of a more traditional mind, who brought me to a temple when I was a small baby. Auntie Rohini was delighted to meet her newborn nephew and thought she would include Mother Goddess in the delight. “It will be his symbolic first outing,” she said. It’s a samskara!” Symbolic indeed. We were in Madurai; I was the fresh veteran of a seven-hour train journey. No matter. Off we went on this Hindu rite of passage, Mother carrying me, Auntie propelling her. I have no conscious memory of this first go-around in a temple, but some smell of incense, some play of light and shadow, some
flame, some burst of colour, something of the sultriness and mystery of the place must have stayed with me. A germ of religious exaltation, no bigger than a mustard seed, was sown in me and left to germinate. It has never stopped growing since that day.

I am a Hindu because of sculptured cones of red kumkum powder and baskets of yellow turmeric nuggets, because of garlands of flowers and pieces of broken coconut, because of the clanging of bells to announce one’s arrival to God, because of the whine of the reedy nadaswaram and the beating of drums, because of the patter of bare feet against stone floors down dark corridors pierced by shafts of sunlight, because of the fragrance of incense, because of flames of arati lamps circling in the darkness, because of bhajans being sweetly sung, because of elephants standing around to bless, because of colourful murals telling colourful stories, because of foreheads carrying,
variously signified, the same word–faith . I became loyal to these sense impressions even before I knew what they meant or what they were for. It is my heart that commands me so. I feel at home in a Hindu temple. I am aware of Presence, not personal the way we usually feel presence, but something larger. My heart still skips a beat when I catch sight of the murti, of God Residing, in the inner sanctum of a temple. Truly I am in a sacred cosmic womb, a place where everything is born, and it is my sweet luck to behold its living core. My hands naturally come together in reverent worship. I hunger for prasad, that sugary offering to God that comes back to us as a sanctified treat.
My palms need to feel the heat of a hallowed flame whose blessing I bring to my eyes and forehead.

But religion is more than rite and ritual. There is what the rite and ritual stand for. Here too I am a Hindu. The universe makes sense to me through Hindu eyes. There is Brahman, the world soul, the sustaining frame upon which is woven, warp and weft, the cloth of being, with all its decorative elements of space and time. There is Brahman nirguna, without qualities, which lies beyond understanding, beyond description, beyond approach; with our poor words we sew a suit for it–One, Truth, Unity, Absolute, Ultimate Reality, Ground of Being–and try to make it fit, but Brahman nirguna always bursts the seams. We are left speechless. But there is also Brahman saguna, with qualities, where the suit fits. Now we call it Shiva, Krishna, Shakti, Ganesha; we can approach it with some understanding; we can discern certain attributes–loving, merciful, frightening;–and we feel the gentle pull of relationship. Brahman saguna is Brahman made manifest
to our limited senses, Brahman expressed not only in gods but in humans, animals, trees, in a handful of earth, for everything has a trace of the divine in it. The truth of life is that Brahman is no different from atman, the spiritual force within us, what you might call the soul. The individual soul touches upon the world soul like a well reaches for the water table. That which sustains the universe beyond thought and language, and that which is at the core of us and struggles for expression, is the same thing. The finite within the infinite, the infinite within the finite. If you ask me how Brahman and atman relate precisely, I would say in the same way the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit relate: mysteriously. But one thing is clear: atman seeks to realize Brahman, to be united with the Absolute, and it travels in this life on a pilgrimage where it is born and dies, and is born again and dies again, and again, and again, until it manages to shed the sheaths that imprison it here below. The paths to liberation are numerous, but the bank along the way is always the same, the Bank of Karma, where the liberation account of each of us is credited or debited depending on our actions.

This, in a holy nutshell, is Hinduism, and I have been a Hindu all my life. With its notions in mind I see my place in the universe.

But we should not cling! A plague upon fundamentalists and literalists! I am reminded of a story of Lord Krishna when he was a cowherd. Every night he invites the milkmaids to dance with him in the forest. They come and they dance. The night is dark, the fire in their midst roars and crackles, the beat of the music gets ever faster–the girls dance and dance and dance with their sweet lord, who has made himself so abundant as to be in the arms of each and every girl. But the moment the girls become possessive, the moment each one imagines that Krishna is her partner alone, he vanishes. So it is that we should not be jealous with God.

I know a woman here in Toronto who is very dear to my heart. She was my foster mother. I call her Auntieji and she likes that. She is Quebecoise. Though she has lived in Toronto for over thirty years, her French-speaking mind still slips on occasion on the understanding of English sounds. And so, when she first heard of Hare Krishnas, she didn’t hear right. She heard “Hairless Christians,” and that is what they were to her for many years. When I corrected her, I told her that in fact she was not so wrong; that Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.

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Naina

Day 11

It was time, time for Naina to go. She knew what would follow, a pull from up above the heavens so strong, that even the idea of holding on to a mortal-possession seemed futile. Naina was summoned back to where her future purpose would be served. But she knew that her visit had made a difference, not just for Naina herself but it changed Priya & Dada’s life as well. She was now glad that it all came full circle and she said her goodbyes.

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This was the end. Naina was a little uncertain how would He react to her breaking the rules of the afterlife but was sure that she’ll be forgiven; after all, Naina was quite His favourite. Her destiny would now be revealed to her. God has a plan for everyone, a fact that Naina was an example of.

The lights grew dim and the lift had become stronger. In the final moments, she couldn’t help but smile.

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For more on Naina, check my photography blog Shot, Framed & Hanged on facebook. If you’ve not been following the story of Naina, make sure you subscribe here. Alternately, you can select the category of the blog post – Photography/Photo Story – Naina.

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Naina

Day 10

God works in mysterious ways and Naina was an example of the same. Her heart was filled with remorse but she was helpless, so much so, that she could not even see Dada and Maa one last time before she left. “Rules change once you enter afterlife and a contact might compel one to lose grip on reality.” She knew there was no way she could call on to them and tell them how much her heart aches for them. But she had to do something! She picked up from her box of memories, her journal which was full of beautiful drawings and naïve poems of how beautiful the world is. All this now, seemed like a joke mocking her! She decided to say her goodbye, with a final word, hoping they will read it. Naina was at the brink of doing the unbelievable. God’s own child was about to break the rule of her beloved Father!

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I am alright.

I would have given everything to be there with you, Maa & Dada, but I’m afraid this time, it’s not my choice. I want you to believe this in your heart that I’m always with you, no matter what and I’ll always be a part of every little smile that you share.

I would tell you everything that I know now, but I’m afraid, this letter is already an instance of me breaking His rules. I came back because I had to say my goodbyes one last time. Meeting you is not an option because, He would not be kind towards my mistake and I’ve asked too much from him already. He has plans for me, I’ll know about them soon.

I have to go now, but I’m always here, in your heart. I love you Maa & Dada! Now that I’ve seen angels, I realize, you two are no different.

Love,
Naina

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For more on Naina, check my photography blog Shot, Framed & Hanged on facebook. If you’ve not been following the story of Naina, make sure you subscribe here. Alternately, you can select the category of the blog post – Photography/Photo Story – Naina.

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Naina

Day 9

Realization has a way of serving you the hard brutal truth with no mercy. Knowing, this is where it all ends, Naina is filled with an extreme range of feelings. She tries to look around wishing that she’ll wake up any moment now, but no morning alarm rings. With a hope that He’ll be merciful enough to let her go, she looks up to Him, but could not draw the courage from within to ask for pardon, for she knows that He has planned something that is above her personal choice. Realizing her incapacitation and the upsurge of emotion from within, she cannot help but cry. All she could think about now is the way Dada woke her up every morning with a kiss on her forehead and the way Maa braided her hair in a new way every time. For Naina, this is not easy.

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Naina

Day 8

She’s been in her room countless times but this one seemed so different. It is more than her room now, it’s her safe haven and she knows time is a cruel nemesis that she cannot defeat. That feeling, when you’re about to leave your home, knowing that you’re never returning back, is something which is all too familiar to Naina, now, more than ever. She knows that He would not let her come back again and she wonders if it would ever be enough, her stay here, at home.

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Naina

Day 7

She called him ‘Mr.Brown’ and for Naina, Mr.Brown was her knight in shining armor. He protected her from monsters behind the curtains and goofy looking birds that moaned at night outside her window. It was with him that she felt safe. Kids have a way of finding comfort in inanimate objects because maybe, just maybe, they see the demons hidden in everything that’s alive.

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Naina has always been fascinated with architecture, be it man made or a masterpiece by nature. It was puzzling for her the first time she got this present of the Taj Mahal. She exclaimed, “Maa! How did you put Tal Mahal inside the glass?” Priya couldn’t resist laughing at how adorable her kid was! Naina had to feel one last touch of this beautiful piece, it meant saying goodbye to her mother.

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Naina

Day 6

As soon as she enters, her once castle of memories, which is now a distant world, she realizes the kid inside her. She finds the one place which always gave her a sense of ‘home’, the rug beneath her bed where she hid, believing that no monster, no fear can ever catch hold of her. It was her place of comfort. It is amusing how kids find comfort in small things, a sense of safety, a feeling of ‘belonging’. In so many days, Naina was finally home!

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‘My Time Machine’, is what she referred to her collection of items that were precious to her. Naina always told her Dada, why she wanted to collect all that was special to her, she would say, “It’s my time machine. It’ll take me to the time that I treasure the most”. Dada would smile and hug her in his arms thinking how precious was this child to him.

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Naina

Day 5

She’s a little unsure if she would like to visit the place which was hers for such a long time. Naina was a little uncertain as to what would follow if all the emotions that are ever so dear to her are churned up from within. Would she be able to let go? She turns around to see if it really worth it. Naina, for the first time in her conquest to complete the circle, is confused.

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Taking the leap of faith and drawing from within all the courage that she could fathom, she takes a step towards the unknown. What will happen now, she wonders.

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For more on Naina, check my photography blog Shot, Framed & Hanged on facebook. If you’ve not been following the story of Naina, make sure you subscribe here. Alternately, you can select the category of the blog post – Photography/Photo Story – Naina.

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