Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Livinghigh was here at 8:26 PM /

faith, sorry, Faith

Grab a piece of the rainbow, the old lady with the gold tooth said, as she shuffled up the stairs to the church. Absurd, of course, as there had been no rain for the last week or so, Nashik was water-starved, and a rainbow was beyond reckoning. But she was adamant, as she got down on her haunches now, and clasped her hands together. She was speaking to the statue of the Infant Jesus at the far end of the church, hoisted up above the altar, a perfect imitation of a miniscule Bal Gopala. This was the heart of Maharashtra, in a town that titles itself the City of Pilgrimage, with a board proclaiming the same pinned on the wall outside the Taj Residency hotel, that in turn announces to all and sundry that they are welcome to the industrial heartland of Maratha-land. Mixed signals, perhaps? But that was altogether beyond me, as I spied the old woman, wrapped in brown, with a scarf the deep dark shade of ebony atop her head, and her spectacle frame glinting a glassy ochre, as she now started moving towards the statue of the Infant Jesus, on her knees.

Maybe I was imagining it, maybe she wasn't really saying 'Praise the Lord' as she moved on her knees, maybe I had imagined her advising onlookers to capture rainbows in mid-flight as well. Maybe it was all part and parcel of the age-old gag about perceptions moulding and deciding how you see (and hear, doubtless) things. Ho hum... Bal Gopala, or Infant Jesus, or Bala Yeusha, as the old Marathi man at the corner put it.

She was moving now, and at a pace incredibly faster than I could have imagined anybody her age doing, but then I could see another man buying candles (a whole dozen of them) at the corner shop, which he was going to set up below the altar, and there I was, myself, hunched up on one of those smooth rosewood benches, sitting forward, watching the old brown woman, the tall candle man, watching the frescoes on the wall that depicted the crucification of Christ, and I remember thinking - wasn't this a bit too gory for a church dedicated to the infant Jesus, all these gory scenes of crucifcation? And I wondered, too, whether it was sacriligeous of me to recall the astonishing charges set forward by Dan Brown in his Da Vinci Code, while among the pews of a gleaming church - but shall I ever be able to think of Christianity in the same light again, without thinking of Da Vinci and Dan Brown, and the rest of the rigmarole? But enough said, and not enough done. Isn't it time I got along with my prayer?

So I say my prayer then, and I arise from my rosewood pew, and I walk toward the door. The brown woman is trundling through the pages of the fat bible placed beside the altar, her crawling is over, and I can distinctly hear her say things about where rainbows can be found if you look hard enough for them. The candle man is gone now, but as I leave the church, I can see his dozen candles all set up in a line, twelve equal brothers, flames licking, flickering in the semi-dark below the altar.

Bal Gopala, or Infant Jesus, or Bala Yeusha, as the old Marathi man at the corner put it. Maybe it's all a matter of faith, sorry, Faith.


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