The Mother Divine
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Layman´s God
God In An Individual
Vijay Menon
A few months back a friend of mine during a casual chat mentioned how she had lost her faith in God ever since her father passed away. She had been a believer until then. But somehow the fact that God could take her father away from her did not go down well. She felt betrayed. And during the course of the conversation she turned the question to me...“How about you Vijay? Do you believe in Him?”

I lost my father on the 25th of May 2011. He passed away in his sleep. Just like this friend of mine, my father too was taken away. But surprisingly my faith in God did not diminish. In fact the bond got stronger. So to the question posed at me, I answered “I am a believer”.

Yes. I am a believer. A huge one at that I should say. My father was one too. His sense of optimism and relentless faith in God was too contagious. I was born in Palghat, Kerala but brought up in Chennai, Tamilnadu. All through the growing up years I have had very distinct images of my father praying.  Be it in our pooja room or at a temple. He would spend a long time praying. In fact that’s something I don’t do. My prayers are short.  They are concise.  I have had many a discussion on this with him. My sister, she was a lecturer of English Literature until she got married recently, is much more like my father when it comes to the style of praying. Yes, I think everyone has an individual style when it comes to praying. Some chant, some talk, some whine, some complain, some converse, some just stay quiet.  God understands every one of these styles. So, I used to tell my father that just because I don’t spend as much time as he does, it does not mean my faith is lesser. But the one thing that was wonderful about him was the fact that he would admit if he felt there was credit in what I was saying. He would even correct himself.  It was amazing. This reminds me of an episode in Vadakunnathan Temple in Trichur, Kerala. Vadakunnathan is Lord Shiva. The temple, it is believed was founded by Parasurama, who is the founder of the state of Kerala. After exterminating Kshatriyas 21 times, he performed a yagna to wash away his sins. At the end of it Lord Varuna asked Parasurama to hurl his axe into the sea and when he did that a huge territory of land came up from the sea. This land later came to be known as Kerala. Once the land came up, Parasurama wanted to consecrate it. So he went to Kailasa to meet his beloved Lord Shiva and requested Him to take abode in Kerala and thereby bless the region. Shiva accompanied by his wife Parvati and two sons Ganesha and Subrahmanya travelled with Parasurama to Kerala. Shiva stopped at a spot for his seat and later he and the rest disappeared. Parasurama found a bright and radiant linga at the foot of a banyan tree. This point where Shiva first manifested his presence through the linga came to be known as the Sri Mula Sthana.  This seat of Lord Shiva became the Vadakunnathan temple. Adi Sankara was born to the couple from Kalady in answer to their prayers to Vadakunnathan.

So, coming back to the episode, there are many a belief in the temple, many a ritual etc. One such is the putting up of stones one over the other which is believed to be a prayer for growth and prosperity in life. So when you reach the point where this is done you see many small mounds of tiny and not so tiny stones propped up one over the other. They look like tiny hills. So my father explained the whole concept to me. He told me “Monay (son), you need to pray to Vadakunnathan and put one stone over the other and create a mound. It’s like creating steps to prosperity. The bigger the better”. Saying this he knocked off an already existing mound and started building his steps. There were other devotees too doing similar acts. After my father completed his steps, he asked me to start. I had a doubt. So I asked “Achaa (father) isn’t it funny that I need to build my future by demolishing another man’s dreams and prayers? I would rather put just two stones that are lying around rather than knock off something that’s been already put up by a devotee.” My father was surprised and astounded by my point of view. I could say he was glad and proud. He admitted it was wrong and later I remember him constantly narrating this episode to his friends.

So that was my father. He was the man who instilled the good habit of faith in me.  He taught me to seek God. Through my growing years I have had experiences that have made my faith in God get stronger. I know there are two kinds of believers. One who says God exists and the other who says God is in us and there’s no such power as God itself.  My experiences have made me come to the conclusion that both these theories are right. They co-exist. God works in myriad ways. He has to. Imagine if you have to answer four phone calls simultaneously. You would go crazy. He does millions of such calls every second of the day...and night. There are times when He makes his presence felt through an individual and there are others when you see God in an individual. My first story in this issue is about the latter.

It was a Wednesday in the month of July. I was in Class 2 in Asan Memorial Senior Secondary School, Chennai. It was a rainy day. Some low pressure had formed in the Bay. I used to take the school bus. When we reached the school, the rains had stopped and there was only a very light drizzle. The bus when it rains usually parks close to the primary section building so that we could run in without getting wet.  But on that day, as it had stopped pouring, the bus parked away from the building. All of us kids jumped out and started running towards the building.  I tripped and fell. The lunch bag went off my hand and my tiffin box rolled out and in the impact opened. The idli & podi  that my mother had packed fell on the wet mud. I was a child. I was told to eat what was sent for lunch. So the idli and podi had to be eaten. I picked them, dusted the mud and put it back into my tiffin box. I picked myself up and ran into class.

12.15 was lunch time in school. The bell rang. All my friends opened their boxes. I opened mine and saw there was still some mud sticking to those idlis my mother had packed. I was trying to dust them away when the peon walked into the class and called out for me. He said “Vijayan, Thomas Miss wants to see you in the staff room”. Yes I was called Vijayan in school and college. Now Thomas Miss was the official Demon for us students. She used to be a terror. A teacher who would beat you with two scales if you didn’t do your homework, if you stared into space, if you looked out of class for a second, if you smiled, if you laughed...every reason was a good reason for a whack.  Thomas Miss was my living nightmare. So when the peon came and said this I started shivering with fear. What did I do now? How did she manage to see me laugh through these walls? Is it going to be two scales or three? My fear was building up every second. My classmate and later good friend Dhruba said he will accompany me to the staff room. So we walked. It was the longest walk of my life. I stopped at the door of the staff room and there I saw her sitting behind her table. She was a big built woman. She was a  classic, typical tough teacher material. She looked at me and asked me to come in. When I got near her table she asked “Vijayan, what are you having for lunch?” I for a second thought I didn’t hear the question right. I gathered all the strength and said “ idli Miss”. She continued “But didn’t they fall down in the mud? Are you going to eat those? Aren’t they dirty?” At that moment I realised why I would be beaten today! For eating dirty idlis! I was wondering why they fell down when I heard her continue “You should not eat that”. Saying that she pulled out two packets of Poori masala from our school canteen and placed it on my hand. She said “I have got you poori masala. Do you like Poori? Or do you want me to get something else?” I was in shock. I said I like poori. She said “Good, Then go eat this and throw the Idlis away”.

I remember walking back with a sense of shock, surprise, happiness...I had just been exposed to a side of Thomas Miss that not just me but no one in School knew existed.

That was an experience that made me believe in mankind. Believe that there’s goodness in everyone. There’s a time and space when it is exposed and if you are lucky then you will get to witness it. I was lucky with Thomas Miss. She did punish me after that for not doing homework but this time I took the beating with a smile.

On that Wednesday lunch time I saw in Thomas Miss a kind woman. I saw a loving woman. I saw a caring woman. Years later I realised I had seen God in her on that day.