Sandhi Pujo

They are praying now. For an hour, as the incense wreaths their bodies, the clearest things will be the drum, the cymbals, the rising image of the gods, and the true relation of mortality and its dearest aspirations will stand forth clearly: men as mists and gods as gleams.
For a few moments, the squabbles inside and out will be chastened, sidelong voices drowned out. The priest will turn his back on the crowd, the drummer will lose himself in effort. Sound, enforcing silence, will summon all. They are praying.
Hear me too, I plead for peace.

If one cannot forgive the demise of reason…

She said, “but I don’t care about cruelty to animals!” I listened, and tried to meet her on her own rational mirthful ground. Behind me stared the man I had recently persuaded into caring. Again she said, “But I don’t care,” as another man rolled his eyes and his wife giggled at the uncouth question.Such clarity! It held me spellbound so that I could not tell her anything. Could not tell her that I was astonished that even after knowing and seeing facts and figures about needless consumption and unsustainability and climate change, this particular educated Indian mind with a toddler whose lifetime would see water and resource crises still didn’t care.Could not tell this very confident modern woman, who declared WalMart was best because it was cheap and yet got herself an iPhone, that it wasn’t really about the animals but about her own desire to continue to have what she wants for longer—meat and money and this iPhone-driven American Dream. That it was all quite selfish, and any rational person would want to listen to the scientists before making up her independent mind. After such knowledge … But no, the rationalist makes up her mind and then runs the danger of conforming to decision and ending blindly. She was not the only one there. To know and not to care. After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

The little threads broke off in my head. I was stricken by the reality of these people whose careless lifestyles and callous, irresponsible abdication of intelligent choices would cost me, among a billion other people around the world poorer than Google beneficiaries, the pain and deprivation that these folks would escape by virtue of their money. I was stricken that I was friendly with people who made it clear they did not care for the likes of anyone not like them, not ‘aspirational’ (that’s the word this century; it used to be ‘greedy’) enough to be like them. Is there greater foolishness than not to know who to befriend? After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

And these are the people I had been defending for so long, my fellow Indians…I wouldn’t defend them anymore, of course. But they did it before I did, they left me defenceless. For, though they no longer identify as or aspire to be Indian, they are the public diasporic face of the people I would like to call my own. I do not think of them as India’s prideful intellectual export: no, they seemed dangerous in their amorality, and fit only for that green libertarian paradise they panted after.

For a tilted moment I wished them the very experiences they had so gaily rejected—hunger, thirst, deprivation, rejection, humiliation, helplessness, the torture of meaningless suffering. I wished they would at some time experience a fall in the food chain. I wished them the abattoir. I was not in equilibrium, and was using my powers in anger and for revenge, even if I were extracting retribution for all the nameless tortured deaths of humans and animals in the world who have suffered because of the likes of these inhuman creatures.

I, too, was wrong then. Having failed to engage them in thoughtful dialogue over time (the only sure way to come to know each other’s minds and acquire respect for alien things) I was failing my causes by my stance. So I said nothing more. And behind me the convert sat open-mouthed in dismay. He, too, had lost faith.