Last weekend was rather extraordinary.
On Saturday morning, we woke up to the loud chanting of sanskrit mantras in the neighbourhood.
Not a surprising turn of events one might say in a country dominated by Hindus. But, it was surprising in a neighbourhood that has been home to a sizable Christian and Muslim population and their religious edifices for decades.
Even more surprising was that the mantra chanting was often interspersed with the muezzin's call to prayers, without an effort from either to outshout the other.
That evening, Ging and I cooked dinner to the pulsating beats of Christian rock and then, turned up the volume on our television so that Manny Mammoth and his ludicrous herd could drown the booming music from the outside. As happy as we were to witness the religious harmony in our surrounds, we were looking forward to a lazy, quiet Sunday.
But, it seemed that the Gods had not had enough.
For come Sunday morning and there were more mantras and songs blaring.
Muttering and grumbling at insensibility of the Powers Above who should have doused the fervent chants with a deluge of rain or a thunderstorm, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and decided to make the best of a bad day by catching up on my chores.
As I dashed out of the house for a spot of weekend shopping at the shop round the corner, I ran into my neighbours dressed in their Sunday burkhas, all set for a day out at the most fashionable mall in town.
We were standing at my doorstep making polite small-talk about the weather, the merits of KFC chicken vis-a-vis other native impostors and the shopping hot spots in town, when all at once, one of them who had been avidly scanning the insides of my house caught sight of the Buddha at my door.
" Buddha is a Hindu God also?" she asked me with hesitant curiosity.
"No" I clarified " Buddha was a wise, noble sage who found enlightenment as well as a whole new religion...He is not a Hindu God"
" Oh, when I saw the statue I thought he might be another one of your Gods like that Ganesha in that corner"
The lady was quick to extend the olive branch, lest her query had caused umbrage.
After all, discretion is the better part of valour, especially when one ventures into uncharted territory.
But then, when her darting eyes spotted a stone sculpture of Mother Mary, a wall hanging with an evil eye and an Arabic inscription, a few more Buddhas and Ganeshas, as well as an array of gleaming lamps and colourful candles glittering and twinkling in different corners of my house, she threw caution to the winds to exclaim " But you have different Gods from differnt religions in your house".
Her announcement had the desired effect on her sisters in black who looked suitably shocked and intrigued.
But before any of them could join in the inquisition, my questioner continued " Do you pray to all of these Gods? How is it possible?"
For a moment, I was lost for words.
How could I explain my spiritual beliefs to a gaggle of women whose approach to God, religion and spirituality was similar to that of a horse with blinders?
So I flippantly remarked "We Hindus are used to having many Gods and Goddesses who co-exist in harmony. If I can pray to Ganesha, Durga, Shiva and Krishna in the same breath, why would it be a problem to call upon Mother Mary or Jesus or Buddha or Allah for comfort, peace and guidance"
I don't think the ladies in black quite expected that, for I could see a few eyes widen in shock.
Others were looking around distractedly- at the floor, the walls, and even invisible people next door.
Etiquette and prudence must have demanded a graceful and hasty retreat, for one of them laughed nervously and quickly chirped an awkward "we must not keep you from your shopping" to signal to the rest of her herd to lift the ends of their black robes and run for their lives before the brazen heathen corrupted their immortal souls with her heresy.
As I walked down to the shop at the corner, I could not help but wonder why we humans tend to complicate God and Religion, insisting upon the need for die hard loyalties to a single God especially when we revel in the power of choices in every other aspect of our lives.
We are not confused when faced with an endless array of choices at the local supermarket, are we ?
Chicken, Fish or Mutton? Breast, Thighs, or Wings?
Whole Wheat, Multi Grain, Rye or Just Plain Sandwich Bread?
Red Wine or White? Sula, Grover, Australian, Italian.....?
Surf and Ariel Vs the 'sastha' brand on the lowest rack?
Plain Cornflakes or Flavoured?
Or, should we ditch breakfast cereal for Muesli or Porridge?.....
Are we confused while making selections off an excruciatingly extensive but mouthwatering menu card?
North Indian, South Indian or Indian Chinese?
Oh wait, there are Burgers, Sandwiches and Indian Continental too!!!
Soup? Starters? Paneer? Chicken? Fish?
One by two? Or each to his own?
The truth is that, choice is the least of our worries.
The truth is that we consider choice as our due rather than a privilege.
And, in every other aspect of life, we pride ourselves on our ability to pack as much of the goodies as we can into our wallets.
So, why should there be a dilemma when it comes to deities or religions?
For the life of me, I could not comprehend my neighbours' quandary at my spiritual style.
Was it that they had overlooked the possibility of Hindus, with their plethora of Gods and Goddesses, having been the original capitalists of our world?
Come ye, Come all...
A God for every need & mood...
Take your pick...
Pick as many as you wish...
Pray as you will...
Pray where you want...
Was it that they had overlooked the truth, that most of the old religions - Hinduism, Paganism, the religions of ancient Greece, Rome, Germany and Egypt - all offered a free market of Gods and Goddesses where the souls were kings and queens?
Or, could it have been that the ladies in black were suffering from the classic " My God is better than yours, and no, before you say it, more IS not merrier" syndrome - a particularly infectious and mind rotting disease that is fast proliferating in the world today.
Can we imagine such an attitude towards, say, Coke and Pepsi?
Or, the possibility of a group of die-hard Baklava fans flying an air-plane through the World Trade Center to terrorise the unsuspecting population into declaring Baklava as the one and only true dessert?
Can we conceive of a situation where the teetotallers of the world unite to declare a spirited Jihad on alcohol and resort to covert and overt acts of terror enforce their choice on everyone else?
Silly as these may sound, the fact is, would any of these topics result in heated discussions, mulish obstinacy or a stand-off from one or both participants if there ever was an argument on the subject?
So why then, about which, and, how many Gods one prays to?
Why is it hard to logically assume that a polytheist, like any other consumer in a capitalist society, would choose a God or Gods who delivered the maximum value to his soul?
And, if there are doubts and uncertainties, one always has the option of experimenting, as with a detergent or a cereal, before settling on a favourite.....
Nirma one month, Surf the next, Henko in the third, so on and so forth before Mr. White is crowned the favourite!
Easy peasy, ain't it?
Disclaimer: I am not a axe wielding, gun toting die-hard Hindu, and, this post is not meant to promote Hinduism in anyway. If my words offend the religious sentiments of any reader, please do accept my apologies for having done so. The intention is not to hurt, but to merely point out that religion and God, like every other thing in our life, is a matter of personal choice, and, it is up to us to exercise our Right of Choice in a matter we think fit.