What truly is Religion?

A random experience. One that I experienced while commuting by train today evening. A heartbreaking one. One that almost got my senses numb. One that raises so many questions and doubts. It is one of the regular issues. Religion based issues. And I wonder. What is Important? Religion or Faith?  If God really is one, then why these many religions that cause rifts? If God really is one, then why these many issues in the name of religion? Well, let me share my experience with you.

As always, after leaving from work today evening, I boarded my regular train for home. This train is one that takes a halt at each station right from Churchgate to my place which is Bhayander which also happens to be the train’s destination. Consequently, it is always heavily crowded. Usually, I kill my time reading while I stand in the narrow aisles inside the compartments. Today, however, I was lucky to instantly get a seat to sit. Now, out of habit, I peered around to take a look at the fellow passengers. Our Mumbai local train compartments are such that one row can seat three passengers and we have such clusters of two seats facing one another all through the train. Beside me were seated two other passengers. A lady in green saree whom Ill refer to as Green lady hereafter. On her left a girl, my sisters age who had dozed off on the window sill. Opposite me, was what looked like a family. A pack of women in black. Four thin ladies in Burkhas. They had two kids seated on their laps. A boy and a girl. Around 2 years of age. Or a little younger maybe. With the kids constantly bickering and ladies loudly chattering, it was really difficult to concentrate on the book I was reading. Now, while I was still struggling with my concentration capacity which does not last more than the blink of an eye, the little girl was suddenly howling and wailing so loud that not only me but she had the entire compartments attention. All gaping. Some frowning with the chaos. Kids can really make one go crazy with their screechy glass shattering voices. I felt my ears were going to bleed. More than once I decided to get up and leave but then acted against it as it might seem rude.

The mother(I think she was the mother) was trying everything she could to put the girl to peace(which wasn’t much but shouting) but her efforts in vain. As the girl would only end up crying louder and louder and louder. Then the Green lady sitting next to me did something smart. She quickly rummaged through her purse and took out a tiny little box which had sweets I suppose. Now, thats what I call being spot on. Give them whatever but kids don’t mellow better with anything apart from something to eat. So the Green lady suddenly earned my respect and some blessings too as I hoped a tiny bit that my ears got saved from bleeding. As soon as she held the box with the eatables to the girl, ever so slowly but I noticed her cries subsiding. All this while, the mother was least bothered with the pain the passengers were going through as she busied herself in a conversation with her sister or whoever that was. The Green lady in the meanwhile took a piece of the sweet and fed it to the girl. The girl smiled with tear-filled eyes. Oh, that beautiful smile! What would I not give to see her smiling and not crying? Suddenly the quote that I like so much was true in all senses.

“Children show me in their playful smiles the divine in everyone.”

Now the girl had a busy mouth with a better utilization than crying. Suddenly, the mother realized that the girl had gone silent and was, in fact munching something. She half-smiled at the Green Lady and asked what she gave her to eat. Hearing her ask that was a bit weird to my ears. I mean I’ve heard of crimes happening after passengers are fed adulterated poisoned things. But come on, the Green Lady seemed Godly to do anything harmful to the baby. Anyway, at that the Green Lady politely

Bhagwan ka naivedya hai” (It is the preparations offered to God).

At the mention of this, the lady in black slapped the girl hard on the cheek and made her puke everything out of her mouth. She said angrily to the Green Lady,

We do not eat what you offer to your God. You should have asked before polluting my girl with that.”

I was speechless so were the few others who heard her remark. The Green Lady was hurt and her fallen face was the proof. After the girl was hit by her mother, there was no stopping her outburst now. She was crying as though she was determined to flood the whole train in the next few seconds. As though some beast was sucking the soul out of her.

I wish I could explain how it felt at that point. The girl had large teardrops streaming down her lovely face. The bother-less mother busy talking away. The dejected sad face of the Green Lady. The confused tortured faces around. And me feeling so awfully sorry for the girl. Poor girl! I wanted to hold her. Comfort her. But with her screeching wails I just wanted to go away as far away as possible. The mother’s cruel remark had left me in a hollow state. It kept ringing in my ears. And somehow my eyes could see nothing but just the tear streamed face of the girl. In a matter of just a few seconds, the lovely smile was replaced by tears. I don’t know how long it was. Maybe minutes. Maybe hours. Before I got up in a dazed state and got off the train. Your God. Your God. Still ringing.

Having born in a Hindu family, I have heard the religion based tales a lot. The usual differences.The regular shitty talks of how unfortunate it has been for our nation to be inhabited by Muslims. Of how one religion is superior than the other. Somehow, I was different, I knew. I never liked or believed in such talks and which has always been a point of endless debate between me and my parents all these years.

Religion for me is always my faith in God. I have always believed God is one. No religions exist for me. But it is sad to see such things. In the name of God. In the name of Religion. Even today. And there’s just one question, what is important? Religion or Faith? God, after all, is One. When I was a kid, I was taught in school that religions are just different routes to one destination and that is God. And I always found that true. It doesn’t matter you pray clasped-handed or open-handed. You visit a mosque or a church. He just doesn’t care! And is still always there!

For me somehow, the smile of the little girl was more important than her wailing face. Than the religion she belonged to. Than the religion I belong to. Than anything else. And I guess even God might have wanted just that. The smile rather than the slap. This incident has damaged something beyond repair in me. The Green Lady might forget it. The little Girl might forget it. But me? I am definitely never forgetting the incident. It is an example of what is required to be changed. A nation cannot progress if there are such issues burdening its heart. It’s time for some awareness to be spread. To think of real issues rather than such petty weedy ones. Someday probably we might rise above it. Look at things from a broader perspective. A better perspective. Until then there will be faces around. Tear-streamed ones. Crying ones. Sad ones.

-Asha Seth