The Times of India Sunday, February 21, 1999The Infinite is never far in India. A few years ago I visited the Madras museum in Egmore. While I was admiring a Chola bronze, a middle-aged South-Indian woman came behind me and, without self-consciousness, placed a vermilion mark on the Shiva Nataraja. At first, I was appalled, but then, I realised that we live in two different worlds. Mine was secular; hers was sacred. For me, it was a 900-year-old object of beauty, for her, it was God. Mine was an aesthetic pleasure; hers was a divine darshana.Suddenly, I felt embarrassed by my petty concerns and my niggling mind. I am struck by the contrast of our lives—the fecund richness of her sacred world, and the poverty of my weary, sceptical, feeble existence. This is where our empty secularism has gone awry. We have lost the holy dimension in our lives. We are quick to brand her superstitious, illiterate, and casteist. She is, in fact, far more tolerant and accepting of diversity because she is capable of seeing God everywhere.In my world of museums, concert halls, and bookstores, there is plenty of search for beauty, but there is no place for the holy. The answer for an authentic life, I think, lies with the woman in Madras, in whose attitude lies the possibility of a fullness and wholeness of being.
Divinity in a stone
The Indian Express Sunday, October 09, 2005On a morning walk along a pot-holed road which was being re-laid, I saw a group of labourers who were about to begin their day’s work. It was obvious that they belonged to a migrant clan of stonebreakers, engaged by the construction contractor. It was also obvious that they were poor, very poor. Tented huts on the roadside, open-air kitchen with the barest of utensils, a baby cradled in a cloth-sling — it’s a common sight at construction sites in India. What struck me was that before the team began the day’s work, a woman performed a small puja on the stone, smeared it with the auspicious yellow and red powder, broke it with a ceremonial strike and then everybody went about their respective tasks. I asked the woman why she did it. In her own earthy Marathi, she replied, "This is not a mere stone for us. There is divinity in it. This stone feeds us. It also makes your cars run smoothly on the road.