I hate to go out every morning to get choicest flowers for my grandmother. I am amongst those fortunate people who get to live with their grandparents and still witness peace within the four walls of their home. But this privilege comes with many small responsibilities and accepting a lot of quirks. One such quirk is insistence on believing in God. And one such responsibility is picking flowers from across the street every morning so that my grandmother could perform her puja with fresh scent of mogra, rose and genda. When I was still a kid, it used to be fun to jump and catch hold of the flowers which were in full bloom. Dadi’s flowers couldn’t be still in their bud. It would mean I selfishly plucked the flower without letting it bloom. So I used to challenge myself every day to find flowers which were most ripe and yet held together. With age, it dawned upon me that puja is a pointless activity. I would rather pluck those flowers to decorate our center table. I could use them to decorate my room. Anything would be better than placing them in a room no-one is supposed to frequent.
The first inkling
My first thought of being a non-believer came when I realized that temples too have politics. The place my grandmother holds holy inhabits people who argue over whose prasad is it or who gets to perform the puja in the neighborhood. There are questions on how much will you pay as dakshina for a particular puja. My grandfather would have be believe that without the right amount of dakshina the puja will be fruitless because we didn’t keep the pujari happy!!
My belief that even if there is some God he is not in the temples, was only confirmed when I our regular pujari got high cholesterol. It means they are like any of us. On imagining what they did for a living, I could not help hating that it was the dakshina that paid their children’s fees. So the preachers of Karma, had their only Karma in taking dakshina. One time our pujari’s son came to our place to get a puja done. After the puja I met him in the market, hand-in-hand with his girlfriend!
The next myth was that pujas would take away the pain in the house. It took me a good 5 pujas in my questioning state of mind to understand that this was not at all true. During the first puja, I couldn’t concentrate on finding the answer to my agenda. That was primarily because any puja meant inviting at least a dozen relatives for lunch following the mantras. This lunch would typically serve choicest of Indian delicacies rounded off by at least 2 sweet-dishes. Since I was always around when the menu was decided, I could not think of much else. So waiting for my turn to get rabri, after helping everyone in serving the guests, was not exactly the best scenario to question the validity of the event itself. That said, I grew resolute with time to find my answer. So the next puja, I took my bowl of rabri even before it was formally served. It is pretty easy, being a host, to get hold of delicacies in the name of ‘tasting it for quality’. Strangely, it hadn’t even occurred to me till then. But probably my pursuit to find the alternate truth was being beneficial in ways more than one. I also registered that the puja was to ensure ‘grah-shanti’. There were supposedly some astrological entities that would cause physical discomfort to members of our family, specifically me. 3 days after the puja, I met with an accident and broke a bone in the right hand. Even before I realized that it had happened, it occurred to me, that the puja didn’t work!
The next three times, the purpose of the puja was so vague, like ensuring there was peace in the household, I perform will in my life and we don’t misplace our expensive stuff. I couldn’t make out any difference between what my home was like before and after the puja. My grandmother said that was the whole point; that without the puja we could have witnessed great losses. They paid a good sum of 5,000+ INR and a dawat of 15 relatives every time. But there could have been a greater loss they say. My mother would hate an aunt who wouldn’t let her sit. But every puja that aunt came to our place and got her fun out of irritating my mother. But Grandma says there could have been a greater loss. 1 month after the fifth puja, I lost my grandfather… that moment I knew; there couldn’t have been a greater loss.
Why you cannot challenge me
There is convenience in claiming atheism. I will not be forced to visit endless temples, which essentially looked the same. Though everyone in the family pitied me not to be able to see the providence, I enjoyed that I could eat whatever I wanted, when the whole family would fast for Sihvratri. Above all, I goggled a lot about evidence on God, and almost every one of them was disproved with an alternate theory.
I have grown up to become a self-proclaimed atheist. I still enjoy the smell of air after a havan. I still wait for my turn to get rabri. I still like to visit new places in the name of visiting the temple there. I can imagine no alternate way to celebrate Diwali, than to start with Lakshmi Puja. But I know none of these can get my Grand Pa back. He has paid your pujaris and filled empty stomachs. He has remained an law and religion abiding man. So yes, I am an atheist. God, if you are really there, prove it to me by returning my Grand Pa. Till then, I am an atheist.