The immensity of faith

Your entire life, you try to fit in. That trend especially becomes very evident when you go through your college life. Maybe this fitting in doesn’t happen on conscious levels, but it just seems like that’s the right and only way to go – to blend into the mob. Whatever it takes to do that, outfits, accessories, interests or opinions. But there comes a moment, a time when you realize that you care about a different set of issues and you possibly couldn’t care less about some. A moment in time when you can no longer put on hold or ignore the set of things that matter a great deal to you as an individual and where those things stand on other’s popularity or acceptability charts doesn’t bother you. That moment is not very defining when it happens, it’s a little strange and confusing in fact….it is a realization that heralds the beginning of an ever-evolving thought process that might define who you will become a few years from now.

About two years ago, I had such an experience. I was out on trip with a bunch of my college friends to Amritsar visiting the golden temple. Now I’m neither very religious nor deeply spiritual, so nothing about that aspect of visiting Golden Temple moved me very much. I was very captivated by something else. Every few steps, there were some visitors mopping the floors, some were chopping vegetables in the Langar, some were serving food, some were standing in the premises to serve water to other visitors, some were sweeping halls, picking up dishes, laying out dishes……..all done voluntarily as service. These were visitors like me but they had signed up to serve for a chosen duration of time. In fact when we were sitting on the floor, eating at that Langar, a very old man was bending down at every plate to put out rotis. I almost felt like not having that roti just so that he didn’t have to bend over again, he had a broad belt wrapped around his waist, the kind you wear when you have lower back troubles. But he had that kind smile on his face as he served over 300 people their rotis that night.

The Golden Temple, Amritsar

This concept of offering voluntarily services at gurdwaras wasn’t new to me. It’s called kar seva and I’d seen this in videos and documentaries many a times. Also, I’ve stayed in many parts of this country and have seen  the most unbelievable things happen in the name of God and religion. But all those things are done for the deity, like something for the idol, an ornament or an elaborate Pooja. None of these services are offered to fellow human beings, in fact I think, getting into long queues at these religious places makes people really cranky, so forget about offering services to other fellow human beings, people even forget to be just civil to each other. If you’ve ever been to Tirupathi, you might have an idea of what I am talking about.

So seeing this, a person mopping the floor that I’d just stepped on and seeing him/her do that constantly and tirelessly in a loop….. that kind of complete human submission to service moved me to an extent that’s embarrassing to admit even today. It had no religious implications whatsoever. It was simply power of human faith and how it has tremendous power to transform individuals. It’s almost the same feeling, when I see thousands and thousands of warkaris walking through the roads during the Palki yatra. At that time of the year, it’s like the whole city unites to make way for them. Even irate morning office goers like me are understanding about the traffic jams, in fact the traffic stops to let them pass just out of respect. People distribute food, water, travel stuff anything and everything that they might need. The warkaris, of course are unmoved by all of this, they just keep marching ahead in a trance like state. There are old men and women, children, youngsters who sign up to be a part of this and I think their staunch devotion towards what they are doing, just that makes way for them. That collective sense of respect for their faith unites this entire city at that time of the year.

Palkhi Yatra, Pune

The very same feeling came back recently while seeing possibly one of the most inspirational TED videos I’ve ever come across. This extraordinary lady, Sunitha Krishnan has dedicated her life to rescuing commercial sex workers from brothels and giving them a better life. I had to pause this video many times to watch it completely, just to let the brutality of the issue being discussed sink in. The world is a better place to live in because of people like these who dedicate their lives to human service. What impresses me most about Sunitha is not just what she has chosen to do, but the way she chooses to do it, not compromising on any of her fundamental beliefs.

So many things come to my mind….. What could be that amazing thing that compels a Sunitha Krishnan to selflessly immerse herself in service? What would be the thought process that drives a well to do business man to tirelessly mop floors in a gurdwara all day? Why would a warkari want to undertake this extremely arduous Palki Yatra every single year? What keeps them going?

You hear people around you talking or read the newspapers and it’s so easy to believe that we are living in a totally evil world. In the past year, mostly owing to the nature of my work, I have come across some of the most inspirational individuals working in different parts of this country, striving quietly behind the scenes to contribute to a better tomorrow for this country. I am humbled by the goodness around today…..so many people, so many organizations working towards social impact. This sense of goodness is a huge inspiration and hope. So when today someone puts down a newspapers and sighs, “This country can never improve”, I just cannot agree with them, especially when said by some people of my age or younger. It reminds me of a quote I’d read somewhere,

There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing. – Maya Angelou

I guess, this blog post just basically tries to trace the journey of faith that eventually taps into the power of one by giving faith a fighting chance.  Change will come, it is already happening at the edge. You just have to look closely to see all these little ants scattered across the length and breadth of this country working hard to lift the load and make that change happen. It is going to happen.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

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3 thoughts on “The immensity of faith

  1. Chaitra,

    An incredible post – in every way. First, your message. Second, sharing Sunitha Krishnan’s video (shocking, horrifying, and deeply moving) and third, how you see groups of people committed to help others. This blog is proof that, through our blogging, we can also help bring attention to certain needs or misdeeds or indeed, help change our country or the world. I can relate closely with your last two paragraphs and the quotes, having heard those precise words and seen those very actions in a different country from yours, in Mexico, where so many decent people are pushing for change.

    I also commend your descriptive powers. If I ever visit Amritsar or those places of worship, I will look for the small groups of people who are helping others.

    Just yesterday, I watched how a group of men, calling themselves the Phils, had come to help reconstruct a small town, Phil Campbell,in Alabama that was destroyed by a tornado. What impelled them to come from Wisconsin, Texas, and Nottingham, England, among others, to help total strangers?

  2. Hi Penelope,

    First of all thanks for your thoughtful comment as always. :). I’m always pleasantly surprised at the time you invest in writing meaningful comments for every blog piece that you read.

    I was a little skeptical about putting this post up. I’d written it a year ago immediately after my visit to Amritsar, but somehow it seemed too personal an experience to be put up online. But a couple of things that happened in the recent past led me to think and share my interpretation of faith.

    Faith brings in an element of resilience. I’d rather keep faith than “hope” as faith has a giving quality to it as opposed to ‘hope’ that always asks for something.

    Anyway, if you do plan to visit Amritsar, do drop me a mail, I’ll send in a list of recommendations of must-see and must-eat places. :)

    Chaitra

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