A few days back, I was in this situation where I was introduced to a family who just happened to be right where we were as if by some mysterious twist of fate. It was highly suspicious, to say the least. The situation quickly got awkward, mostly for everyone else; not for me though, I was just loving it. 🙂
The setting was in front of a grand temple, some 60 to 70 Kms away from my house. The previous day, my mom had this sudden interest in visiting the aforementioned temple. That part wasn’t strange; what was strange however was that she wants me and my dad to accompany her. You see, I am not a big fan of these temple visits. The reasons are many and varied; for starters, it would involve me in waking up obscenely early in the day! However, at that very moment, I was unable to come up with a sufficiently good enough excuse to back out of this ‘temple run’ thing and had no choice but to concede and accept. Nevertheless, I let my reluctance be well heard.
So the next day rolls around and we all head out. It is remarkable how I brushed my teeth, took bath and got ready within 30 mins while being completely groggy from a massive lack of sleep… especially when I take 2 hours for the same on normal (read office) days! As a matter of fact, I am not even completely sure the above happened. Maybe, I just had an ultra-realistic dream….
Anyway, we reach our destination in an hour. On the way there, I noticed that my mom is fiddling with her mobile a little too often. I found that a little odd but didn’t dwell on it, probably because I was sleepy as hell. Once we arrived, I thought I will catch up on my sleep even if it only for a few precious minutes while my parents go into the temple. “Hey, somebody needs to be there in the car right?!” was going to be my excuse to stay in the car.
Now I don’t remember what exactly happened because you know… I wasn’t completely in my senses. I just heard a couple of pretty loud but happy and excited female voices, one of them was my mom’s. Apparently she ran into a friend. She ran into a friend, in a temple, that early in the morning! I mean, the sun was barely up at that point!
So like any good friend, families are introduced to each other. My mom’s friend came with her husband and their daughter; their only daughter, I was told immediately. Umm, okay. The girl was actually very good looking, slightly dusky which is my type by the way and she was dressed in traditional Kerala attire. Looking back now, I realise I should have thinking something on the lines on how beautiful she looked then but all I could think of was how early she would have gotten up to get dressed in a Sari like that?!! Did she even sleep at all?? Come to think of it, why am I wearing this brand new shirt? And when did I get the time to iron it?? Man, I am definitely not an early morning person! Hell, I am not even a morning person; if I had it my way, I would wake up only in the afternoon, on ALL days!
The parents were making small talk while I was just standing there bemoaning my lack of sleep. I turned to look at the girl and she smiled at me. Now, I am not known for smiling at people, especially beautiful girls I have never seen before. But I was completely out of it that morning and so I smiled back.
“Shall we go then?” she asked me.
“Now? But we just got here.”
“Huh, no. I meant inside the temple” She chuckled at my obvious gaffe.
Her smile was so enchanting that I was instantly mesmerized and continued gazing at her without breaking eye contact. I even felt a sly smile developing on my lips.
“Come Hari, let’s go inside and pray” Way to ruin the moment, Mom!!
“Uhh, no. you guys go ahead. I will hang back.” I replied. The eternal optimist that I am, I still had hope for some shut eye.
“Don’t be silly. God will not forgive you if you don’t come inside and pray” My mom’s friend told me rather assertively.
This always vexed me as a kid. God is supposed to be omnipresent right? Then why do we need to go to some designated places to pray? I never understood that.
“Kids these days aren’t as religious as they need to be.” My mom chipped in. And then she looked at me and said, “Back in our days, we used to pray daily and then go to temples on weekends”. I don’t know if just a friendly fact or a thinly veiled threat.
“Ohh no. You don’t pray daily??!!” The girl asked. Her beautiful smile had vanished and she was almost appalled at my perceived insolence! Yeah, I liked you better when you were smiling.
The dads were finding this amusing. I was not. This is Not how I usually spend my 6 AMs! So I remarked, “You all seem to be pretty religious”
The ladies nodded their head. The girl nodded a little vehemently I have to say. I was afraid she might break her neck. “When was the last time you prayed?” she asked, her curiosity plainly visible in her eyes.
She could have been The One, you know. But instead, she went and asked the question that was best left unasked. The jovial mood suddenly turned serious as everyone was now eagerly anticipating my answer. The long courtyard of the temple was suddenly and unexpectedly wrought with tension. The dads were closest to the temple, with the ladies just in front of them. I was the farthest away and I didn’t want to come much closer anyway.
But she had asked That question. She had thrown down the gauntlet and I had to respond. So I took a step forward towards her, tilted my head sideways and then down to my watch. “The last time I prayed to God” I began, then looked up, dead into her eyes and continued with a sly smile, “was back in 1999.”
I had a feeling that her shell shocked face would be the last I would be seeing of her. I looked around and saw faces that were equally aghast at my apparent blasphemy. I can’t say I was surprised though. I just turned around and walked back to the car. I could feel all their eyes burning holes in my back but that didn’t matter because I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. And I realized I could finally catch up on some much needed sleep! I just kicked back the front seat and settled down to have one of the best naps I had in years!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was how my parents came to know that I am an Atheist.