Well, Mumbai has always been told to be a town of hurry. People look like they always happen have a deadline for everything and an inherent requirement to be on time. The sense of urgency just emanates from every individual, irrespective of your origin. From a 8 year old child relentlessly begging from a grudging working lady to an elderly person in his sixties, this city seems to be a like a canister, promising an astounding and non-ending vitality. People here are the ones that have defined living on the edge, both literally and figuratively. Even for the imports who come just to click some snaps of the VT are in a sense of urgency; they might be clueless but they seem to understand that, like everywhere else in India, going with the crowd always keeps you from seeming stupid.
The center depiction of such urgency is the local train. The gigantic amounts of humanity that rushes into a single compartment of the local is just an awakening event for everyone; people don’t rush in there to grab a seat or get a window seat. The primary focus is to get a square feet area on the floor and a 5 inch space on any handle bar; if you get a seat then God sprayed you with with some lucky shit and if u get a window seat, you should declare that you drank a vial of Felix Felicis.
I was a fortunate (ok i have my doubts about that word) individual who could witness such events on a pretty regular basis. Being an intern at a social media company in Fort, a resident of Powai and a broke chap, INR 8 to Kanjurmarg in those days was the best I could manage. I never had any complains regarding traveling in the local. It rather fascinated me. I had always believed the Bollywoodish aspect of Mumbai. Everyday this city creates 20.5 million stories, most left untold, unheard. All I am trying to do today, is make an exception to such convention.
Its an account of my interaction with a middle aged man, Navin, who was from Vikhroli. As tall as me with a belly that personified curvature, he will be a part of one of those conversations in which I discovered something important about myself. But that’s not the most important aspect of this account. For me, it will always be 40 mins of travel that left me thinking for the next 20 mins about about the disappointment I was and the way to carry the burden of such realization.
Navin got on the local along with me at CST at 8:00pm. We definitely were at a very good disposition to push few men and grab a seat, but you know, once you travel a few times in local, you soon realize that its never the seat that’s important, its fucking oxygen! So, I jumped to the middle bar of the entrance and slid to the side of it. Navin replicated the action on the other side of the same face.
After the few introductory interactions that shot off as the train started, he started speaking about the weirdest thing I could think about: his ideas on theology! That’s one topic I have always tried to stay away from, even less talk about it. My dad is a very religious man. Its hard to accept the truth, but I haven’t inherited such a virtuous aspect of him. Not that I blame him, but I just believed that I had done well enough without a gold studded deity in my head, or a stone chain around my neck. Never did I have any concrete reason for being an atheist.
“God is the most beautiful incarnation. It all just makes sense, One creator, one preserver and one destroyer: now wonder we have the cycle of life by the virtue of our Karma.” said Navin. I shrugged, considering he was asking a general opinion of the people near the middle bar. But perhaps that shrug was a bit too conspicuous. “Why, don’t you believe in God?” asked Navin with his eyebrows converging like I was the biggest disappointment that ever walked on the face of the earth. I tried to give a sensitive, reasoned answer.
This is usually awkward, time consuming and pointless. i have always considered that people who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith.” I still gave my logical answer because I felt that not being honest would have been patronizing and impolite. “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe,” I said, which I realized was actually both patronizing and impolite. So to just make an attempt to bring in some humor, I added “Well, it’s the way God made me.”
Navin’s eyes were those depicting extreme disbelief. He just kept staring at me as if I was a social outcast for a few moments. Then he almost shouted out “Kya?, tum bhagwan pe vishwaas nahin karte….maa baap ne kuch sikhaya nahin?” What, you dont believe in God. Haven’t yer parents taught you anything? Respecting his age, the sudden rush of adrenaline didn’t go in sync with my clenched fist. “What are you so arrogant about a power superior to you?” he asked.
Now this got on my nerves. Arrogance was another accusation which seemed particularly unfair. I had always believed that science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence – - evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos. My point being, I say that God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you surely can’t have your own facts.
We had arrived by then at the Parel station and a hoard of figures just barged in as if they didn’t realize my existence near the bar. However, just to stand my ground, I resisted a bit while allowing them to pass through at the same time. The last thing you can be on a Mumbai local is a push-over. People will just trample you straight away.
However, as the train again started, Navin threw me another instance of his disbelief. “Why don’t you believe in God?” he questioned. Now it was really getting on my head. I had to stop this discussion, not because I didn’t like being questioned, but the truth about me being everything like an atheist just hit me hard with the fact that I am a non-believer of everything that my dad wants me to believe. And that’s one thing, I just dont want to believe, much less think about. I asked “Why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer which is you. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, “Why don’t you believe I can fly?” You’d say, “Why would I?” I’d reply, “Because it’s a matter of faith.” If I then said, “Prove I can’t fly. Prove I can’t fly see, see, you can’t prove it can you?” You’d probably either walk away, call another person or throw me out of the running local and shout, ‘’Fucking fly then you lunatic.””
Navin seemed to have taken offense, but all I could think about the first mantras that my dad had taught me, the expectations he had from me, the beliefs he had imparted to me. All that was hitting me was the realization that I had failed his beliefs. I had failed him as a son. And I knew that such a feeling would consume me, if I don’t fight it with whatever reason I have left in me. So, despite a son’s remorse, the atheist in me continued.
“As an atheist, I see nothing “wrong” in believing in a god. I don’t think there is a god, but belief in him does no harm. If it helps you in any way, then that’s fine with me. It’s when belief starts infringing on other people’s rights when it worries me. I would never deny your right to believe in a god. I would just rather you didn’t kill people who believe in a different god, say. Dictionary definition of God is “a supernatural creator and overseer of the universe.” Included in this definition are all deities, goddesses and supernatural beings. Till date, Hindu mythology provides over 3 crore gods and goddesses. So which one do you believe in? Or is it that you belief that heaven too has a legislature of its own, which runs on one-time elections only. With Brahma holding the portfolio for the creation, Vishnu for maintenance, and Shiva for municipality, Indra for monsoon with Meneka as his Private undersecretary, Ganesh and Saraswati with a joint alliance for Ministry of Education and Vishwakarma for Ministry of Engineering? And do you think they have a Lokpal? How do you think they function? Do they have their regular cabinet meeting indicative of every season? Does Indra specifically gives a Rain budget and Kubera the general budget on a centennial basis? Are earthquakes and famines the results of one of the Gods who has escaped heaven’s jail? Tell me, how do you think it is? And now if you gonna say that you believe in just one God, then let me tell you that you as as big an atheist as me. I don’t believe in 3,00,00,000 gods. You don’t believe in 2,99,99,999 of them. Approximation works it out.”
I was so caught up emotionally that I hard hardly noticed a mixture of emotions that had come up on Navin’s face. It was a poly-morph of disbelief, intrigue, confusion, and impatience. He was urgently looking out for the next station, maybe because he had never met an individual who wasn’t a brainwashed chap. All he knew that would make me stop was the arrival of the local at the Vikhroli station.
We luckily arrived at the Vikhroli station at 8:35pm. Never did I see a man running away from me like that. Its was literally like a rat scampering off to the a place of safety for his food. He kept turning his head back looking at me, as if he was trying hard to imagine I didn’t exist, trying hard to convince himself that I was just an apparition, a figment of his imagination. But I existed, right there in front of him, with an unending realization of disappointing my dad.
As the train left, now all I could think about was my dad and how different I was from him. I remembered one instance when I asked him why he gave me the nickname ‘Licon’. It was a very uncommon name in our household, and resembled too much to Abraham Lincoln. I had never accepted the idea that my dad could be influenced by a Western political icon. He is really a tradition man who takes pride in his culture. He then told me that I was named after Loknath temple, a temple in dedication to Hanuman. I was built on his ideals, even my identity was a depiction of the same. I wanted to kill myself and wouldn’t deny that the thought of jumping off the train didn’t pass my mind.
Thanks to that thought my mind came crashing down to earth. I turned my face from beliefs to reality. I realized that I was losing hold on practicality. I knew that I wouldn’t do my dad any good dead. He would prefer to have an atheist as a son than mere human pulp. This idea was enough to console me and try convincing me that I was not actually disrespecting my dad, rather standing my own belief; I actually wasn’t dis-respecting his belief, I was merely respecting mine.
So I wondered from a broader perspective what the question “Why don’t you believe in God?” really meant. After a lot of pondering over this question, I realized that when someone asks us they are really questioning their own belief. In a way they are asking “what makes you so special? “How come you weren’t brainwashed with the rest of us?” “How dare you say I’m a fool and I’m not going to heaven, fuck you!” Let’s be honest, if one person believed in God he would be considered pretty strange. But because it’s a very popular view, it’s accepted.
“Do unto others…” is a good rule of thumb and I prefer to live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s just what it is – a virtue. Not just a Hindu virtue. No one owns proprietary on being good. If I’m good, I don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. Its the conviction that I lived a good life, for me, my family and my friends.
The local arrived at Kanjurmarg Railway Station. I got down.