My job, much to my delight, has been exposing me to various kinds of people, the kind that I would never have met if I was not a reporter. Reporting teaches you patience, something I totally lacked. But over the past one month, I have had to wait a lot, for people to come, for speeches... Once we had to wait nearly five hours for a former Deputy Chief Minister of the state to make his speech! Can be tiring, but you also get top make friends with other journalists which is good.
Recently, I had to cover a programme where a lot of gurus, matadhipathis of various religious institutions or mutts were to attend. It was a very religious programme.
The chief swami who was to come is based in Tamil Nadu, so I saw a lot of Tamil mamis at the function. If you have seen pictures of the late M S Subbulakshmi, you will know what I am talking about. Nine yard sarees wrapped around their legs, heavy nose studs, a delicate posture, bent down often with years of kutcheries and pickling mangoes in their homes, they are a joy to look at. It looked like a hall in Tamil Nadu, with old, very old Tamil grandpas and mamis, all with a yellow shawl of their mutt wrapped around their shoulders.
The programme began with the chanting of some shlokas from the Vedas. I hadn't heard that in a while and it was soothing as usual. I am not too religious (I like to think of myself as spiritual instead) but these chantings also stir up a feeling of belonging to a 5,000 year old culture of Indianism like nothing else normally does.
The rest of the programme was usual, with speeches and discourses by each of the swamis that I dutifully took down. After a while, this middle-aged man came and sat next to me and every once in a while, I couldn't help notice how pious he was.
This programme was to celebrate 100 years of the ascending of a late swamiji to the peeta of a prominent mutt. All the swamis there spoke about how great he was, etc. Every time some of his miracles were talked about, everytime a swami spoke, this man next to me would fold his hands and utter a silent prayer. Soon, everytime he heard something about that late swami, this man began to cry!
What struck me was the kind of faith this man had. Now for some personal reasons, I don't think very highly of any swami. I have many issues about them and I can get very sceptical. But for this man and so many others there in the audience, they were in divine presence. All the swamis there were the heads of very important mutts in the country, most very prominent in the political scene in the country, commanding tremendous influence over millions of followers all over the world. For many that day, it must have been a very important day, a very religious one.
This is what amazes me about India. Millions of people, all from different backgrounds, most with nothing in common except for their faith, are bound to each other by that very faith. I may not believe in them, I don't have faith, I admit. But my faith rested in those people there who were so involved in their devotion that the rest of the world seemed immaterial to them. It is this faith that unites people. I agree with the caste system being a bane, reservations, and all that stuff, but I don't see how a country like India would survive without a faith, in religion, in swamis or anything else. To the alien eye, it might symbolise an ignorance that hinders development, but to me, development symbolises this keeping of faith.
To me, it is development that people are still willing to keep their faith, in spite of everything. This is quintessential India to me and in it, I will keep my faith.