Does religion dominate every other relationship? Is it strong enough to question liaisons based on pure economic needs, formed out of the basic human instinct to survive and earn a livelihood? Is religion significant only for people who do not have to worry about feeding their stomachs every day?
These were some of the questions that were raised, and later left unanswered after my chance encounter with a world that I never imagined could exist.
The holy river Yamuna crosses the metropolitan capital Delhi. It could have been a perfect example of past in sync with the present, had it not been for the unfortunate state of the river. Reduced to nothing more than a sewage drain, the river speaks of the atrocities inflicted upon it during its course in the city.
And yet, it does not lose its standing in the Hindu customs and traditions. The rivers are goddesses and so are they treated, merely in pujas and venerations. A male child’s birth is celebrated by shaving his head and giving away his hair to the river. People come to the river to wash away their sins and cleanse their souls of any misdeed that they might have committed. The ashes of a deceased family member are immersed in the river, as a final journey to heaven.
Kudesia Ghat on the banks of river Yamuna in Delhi is the place where all these rituals are carried out. The river bank opposite this one, the other side of the river, is home to a Muslim community. People from this community row boats in the river, sell the puja samagri (articles used in the puja) for the devotees, work as barbers, vend eatables and chai etc. Consequently, the other side of the river for this community is the source of occupation and ensures two square meals a day.
It’s a remarkably unusual relationship, between the two religions. Given the smooth functioning of the arrangement, it can be said that no one seems to mind this symbiosis. The prejudices and reservation against the other religion seem to disappear in this surreal setup.
When I see the spiritual gurus and politicians talking about communal harmony, I see well articulated contrived words which are spoken without any knowledge of reality. They are spoken with the confidence that the economically marginal section of the society is not aware of these words of wisdom. The world seems to have forgotten that love, respect and tolerance is not the prerogative of a few.
The incident left a mark on my memory. Never have I seen such simplicity and rationality in people. It’s a domain that makes the outside world look insane and senseless. My only regret here is that, it still remains a trivial realm, unconnected to the one surrounding it.