Let us leave the arguments on which side I am going to be in for now. For now, I am neither an atheist nor a theist. This post is about a poor, cheerful, sentimental atheist whom I admired at a Ganesh temple in Chennai recently.
It was the birth day for Ganesha and the famous Luz Pillayaar temple was bustling with cars and crowd like his pot-belly. The time was around 9 30 PM and I get down from the 29C bus and walk towards my shelter at Luz Corner ie five blocks behind Ganesha. As I was crossing the road, I see a cyclist pedalling parallelly to me. As per the theory of relativity, he seemed to be static with my frame of reference as we were both travelling at approximately same speeds. But as per humanity, I sensed a different sense of relativity with the man.
He was pedalling with an old lady in the carrier, whose face was filled with joy and pride. This cyclist was talking to her as he was pedalling and I overheard the conversation as thus: (roughly translated into English)
"Look ! Look at the number of cars and the number of people here. All are people like you...Devoted to God. But not like us.. they are rich. Their biggest concern will be their posh cars and parking spaces even when they are waiting in line to be blessed inside. We are not like them .. We can walk in carefree and drop a prayer or a hello and walk on......
Look at the crowd. Look at the energy and life in this. Forget rich and poor. The festival is for all. What are you doing with your small 'pillayaar' (Tamil name for the Lord Ganesha) at home? If you want to pray and celebrate Chathurthi, do it in style amidst the big fellows in the famous temple.. Won't I take you here ? "
I thought at that moment that he was a pious god-believing mother-loving young worker-class man. In the next few minutes, half of my assumptions turned out to be right and this paradox increased my admiration for him. He stopped his bicycle amidst Corollas and Santros. There was no room to barge into the temple but the sanctum santcorum was visible through the grilled windows outside.
The cyclist finds a position with the best view for his short mother outside the window and talks on...
"Here you go. Now pray and talk to your God. Ask him everything except for making me believe in him. Don't try to go deep inside the crowd. They will squeeze you in the excitement.
If you want to pray, I will make you pray in style. Doesn't matter whether I do or not. I will go buy some stuff and come. Wait here after praying. Don't go inside. I won't be far. I will be within eye-shot only"
Now, hold on, I thought he too wanted to wish Ganesh when he pedalled his old mother here. What made him bring his mother, who was praying simply in her home with her small clay 'pillayaar', to make her stand amidst the city's top richies at the Luz temple? What status is he looking to showcase? From his talks, I understood that his home must not be in a normal pedalling distance from the temple. So , why?
Whatever, I admired him for respecting his mother's (or anyone's) belief in spite of his atheism. For I know a lot of people who force their opinions on others in sensitive issues- be it atheism, religion or even an IPL team.
I admired him for taking the effort to provide the best Ganesh Chathurthi experience to his mother. How many sons at his social class would bother to make his mother feel 'a part' of the big society at least for an hour?
I admired him for his individuality. Even if he was obliging his mother's wish, he did not give up his stance on God and walked away with this knee-fold lungi to the petty shop at Luz Corner , within his mother's eyeshot.
Seems there were worthy lessons of life to learn from this lungi-clad athletic worker-class atheist. Let his mother be proud !!!