The God That Never Was

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It’s been five years now. How time flies! But does it really? Maybe for some. Maybe for you, maybe for me. Yet somewhere today, in a dimly lit room, sits a mother holding her child’s photograph. Cobwebs litter the walls and corners. The door makes a creaking noise as a lonely wind brushes past it and tiptoes through the house. The window was open. She rises up with a sigh and walks over to it, dragging her feet through a layer of dust. The whole room seems forgotten. There’s dust on the study-table and spiders climbing through the curtains. Nothing seems to have been touched in months, years. Nothing, except for that photograph. It doesn’t seem to have a speck of dust anywhere. But it’s wrinkled and soft..and wet. She closes the window shut, turns the dim light off and sits alone in the darkness, clutching the photograph close to her chest. For some, time stands still.

“Do you believe in God?” “Of course, mother. Why wouldn’t I?” “Good boy. May He bless you with all the happiness in the world.” “God is great.” “God is great.”

I don’t have many regrets from the life that I’ve spent, the life that I was gifted. There are ups and downs, no doubt and a couple of things aside, there isn’t much that I’d like to change about the last 22 years of my life. Yet, as the days have rolled by, there were things, thoughts that began knocking on my mind’s door when I least expected them to. Things I wasn’t sure were in my mind to begin with. With every year and every knock, the door was getting weaker, the knocks were getting heavier, louder. Yet I resolutely held my own, pushing the thoughts aside and living yet another day. Maybe I didn’t like the idea of losing to my own thoughts or maybe I was scared of what might happen if I let those thoughts in. Maybe. I thought it was just easier to postpone the decision for another day. Years rolled by, things stayed calm and the knocks altogether stopped. Life went on as before. Then one fine day, five years back, there came an avalanche, a tsunami. The door was destroyed, ripped to shreds. And the mind just stood there open, naked. The eyes finally saw.

There is no God. We’re on our own. We’re all we have. It’s scary. It should be. It’s a scary world out there. But you have to admit, it’s also strangely uplifting, freeing.

I was never given an option. I never knew there was an option. It has always been like that. Me, my family, my friends (give or take) ..and God. It was like the Avogadro number, or the Planck’s constant. Or any other constant for that matter. To question God’s existence was to question the beliefs of those who brought you into this world and who brought them into this world, and so on. And I wasn’t a man big enough to do that. I’m still not a big enough man nor will I ever be a big enough man to question the beliefs of said people. But however strong the base is, there are things in the world that can still shatter the strong but false foundations.

I remember waking up early. It was a holiday I think. I’ve forgotten why. Maybe for an exam or something. Or maybe I just skipped school that day. Everyone else was still asleep. Eyes half-closed, I dragged myself to answer the bell. The newspaper guy had tossed the paper and left. I loved to read the paper so I sat down on the sofa. The front page was filled with news about the Mumbai terror attacks. The police and the forces were still trying to rescue the hostages. That was all me and my family watched the previous day. Mother and sister prayed all the time. I think everybody everywhere did. So did I. It was horrific. God had to do something.

Mother must’ve heard the bell. She too woke up minutes later and without a look or a word, she straightaway headed to the living room, switched on the television, muted the news channel and sat down. I knew she had started praying again. I don’t think she ever stopped praying. Feeling a bit guilty, I began praying again. Browsing through the paper, my eyes fell on a story resigned to the footnote. It was about a little girl and her little brother. A woman found them wandering through the Mumbai station, holding each other’s hand, searching for their mother. In the middle of the gunfire, the stampede, the madness. She brought them to her home. It’s been three days now. The kids are still waiting for their mother. The woman who found them breaks down before the journalists. The door in my mind was ripped apart. The foundations were shattered. From that moment, I stopped praying.

They said a lot of things. That God is good. That everything happens for a reason. They talked about karma. About sharing the bad in life with the good. That there’s spring after winter. But there wasn’t a single reason in the whole wide world of God I could find that would make him do what he did to those kids. Innocent souls now ravaged for life. No karma, no heaven, no hell can explain the brutality of this tragedy. What harm could souls as young and as pure as them ever do to deserve that? The God, the caring father of his billion children, the protector of the universe, what good is he if he can’t look after his own children? No father will turn a blind eye to the travails of his children. Where was he when two little kids were snatched away from their mother, left to fend for themselves, wandering alone in the pits of hell? If God exists, then he probably doesn’t give a damn. And that contradicts the definition of God, the caring parent who quite simply has to give a damn. Ergo, God doesn’t exist.

It was a simple thing, in the end. I probably always knew it in the back of my mind. The back of my mind? Ah, yes. Those knocks on the door. They were always there. But I ignored them. I was too scared to imagine a world without God. Without a watchful protector looking after me and those I love. I needed a wake-up call so severe to open my mind, my eyes. But I can imagine it now. Many people still can’t. And that’s all right. Lucky are the ones who die knowing there’s a God. It’s a sad thing, but they are lucky. If they’ve done good in life, they would believe they’ve booked the tickets to heaven. If not, at least they know where they’re going. To those who know better, it’s a strange world. There is no heaven, there is no hell. This is all they have.

If there are any regrets about the life that I’ve lived, this is one of them. That a part of these beautiful years, a part that was as quiet, as close and as sure as my shadow, was a lie. But there are no more knocks, no more doubts. There’s a new foundation. Maybe on lonely, turbulent shores but it’s a true foundation. It will hold, come what may. Because that’s all there is.

But the world is neither just nor unjust
It’s just us trying to feel that there’s some sense in it
No, the world is neither just nor unjust
And though going young
So much undone
Is a tragedy for everyone

It doesn’t speak a plan or any secret thing
No unseen sign or untold truth in anything…
But living on in others, in memories and dreams
Is not enough
You want everything
Another world where the sun always shines
And the birds always sing
Always sing…

Robert Smith was right.

Spaceman

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This too shall has passed.

 

In the nostalgic concert halls of a timeless Wankhede, amidst the weary melee of misty-eyed adoration sweeping every blade of grass in the land, a little God crooned a bewitching swansong as he took his final steps within the hallowed corridors of ancient brilliance, walked past the sepia-toned gates of history and vanished into the enchanted chambers of peerless immortality. The sands have finally slipped through our hands. The clocks have finally stopped ticking. The birds have finally stopped chirping. The music has finally stopped playing. In this eerie quiet amidst this madding chaos, the sun, it seems, has finally set.

There is no way of softening the blow. There are no royal cushions to soothe the pain or mystical concoctions to make us forget the unforgettable. It will stare at us forever and it is staring at us right now. Sachin Tendulkar has retired. Life, whether you walk in space, win a million dollar lottery or discover an endless supply of bubble-wrap, will still be a poorer place tomorrow. Unless a benevolent soul gifts the world a functioning time machine or a wandering soul chances upon the fountain of youth, come tomorrow, what are we then left with? Before walking past that door, what, if anything, has Sachin left behind?

Memories? Yes, memories. Printed onto the back of our minds with the sort of tattoo ink that, even if you cross the seven seas, take a dip in the Bermuda Triangle and come back to rid the world of hunger, poverty and pop music, is never erased. Those kinds of memories.

“Another world, where the birds always sing

Another world, where the sun always shines

Another world, where nothing ever dies…”

It’s been, what, 25 years? I feel like I’ve been watching Sachin forever. Well, I’m only 22. The entirety of my life then. It’s been a journey so long and so complete that there is a real danger of losing yourself in its memory. It is better than reality. It is sweeter than reality. This journey with Sachin, following even from a thousand miles away, is still closer than reality. Every single moment spent with him, in all these years – in a life running in parallel to our lives, is one to cherish. There is not a single blemish, a single disappointment, a single letdown. If there really is a workaholic God who had his hands full for the whole week, we now know what he did on the seventh day. We have ended up with one of the most beautifully written scripts the divine ink could write. It’s a surreal story which has been carved so artistically, so flawlessly and one which is now resigned to an alternate reality – guarded within the meadows of our memories. If Robert Smith really did believe in a world where the birds always sing, this is it.

But is that all? Just a panorama of striking images that caress you, excite you and then smother you and your very soul? Is everything that Sachin has done in all these years now resigned to dusty old tapes and an engaging mind full of joyous sorrow and melodious nostalgia? Are the monumental feats of this tiny man, like most other athletes of the land, really that limited in their wider significance?

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon and hoisted the American flag where no human had ever set foot, much less hoist a flag or take a walk, it was an era-defining moment. More than it being a matter of a record, it was a symbol, a statement. The pride of a nation. The victory of human persistence. The power of a human dream. Of a lonely march into an unknown land, of inventing the uninvented, of discovering the undiscovered. It was a marker, a line in the sand.

And that’s precisely what Sachin did. This is not to say Indians are without imagination, without dreams. We too had drawn lines in the sand. But what Sachin did was walk a hundred steps ahead of our line and draw a bunch of new lines in faraway lands. Every time we built a little house and tried to be satisfied, Sachin would go out and build us a house ten times bigger, fully-furnished, with a garden at the back, a car on the front and a beach on the side. And he would do it alone, without a hint of annoyance, pain or regret but with that youthful smile forever glued to his face. We were almost spineless, spoilt kids and he was our big brother. He never believed in taking from us, but just giving, and then giving some more.

For a change we didn’t have to make people remember the days that people had stopped remembering, the days when our land was called the golden bird, the days of Aryabhatta’s zero, of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel, of Satyajit Ray’s movies, of Dhyan Chand’s hockey or the year of ’83 – to make our chest swell with stale pride. For once, we could actually point at our present, raise our collar, puff our chest and walk out of the room with our heads held high. As we began growing as a nation in the nineties, with every statement that shouted and spit at us our inferiority, we could fall back on Sachin, take his cue, take all blows and then punch one back. This little boy took us by our finger and showed us a new way, a new land. Every time we fixed our boundaries and built walls around it, he would rush out of his crease and shatter all walls. “Don’t do that. There are no boundaries. Come, I’ll show you.” And again, he’ll patiently take us by our finger. That’s how he was.

Has he left behind anything other than memories? I believe we both now have the answer. He has left behind what only the likes of legendary presidents, era-shaping musicians, monumental freedom-fighters and the bravest of soldiers manage to leave behind. A legacy. The achievement of touching the lives of a billion people for a quarter of a century. With humility, dignity and unflinching national pride. Of inspiring a generation of a country and many more throughout the world. Of being the man every single one of his countrymen looks up to with eyes watering with adoration and chests choking with pride. Of being the man whose every single word could calm a billion or make a billion revolt. Of being the man for whom even the most hardened rivals throughout the land would unite and cheer as one. When it came to Sachin, there never were two ways about it. He was absolute. A single umbrella for the whole nation to take shelter under. A cult hero.

At the end of the day, all a soul wants is to be happy. For 24 years, he has strived for just that. Pleasing the fans of the game. Pleasing his countrymen. God? No. Not God. Not Superman. After 24 years of attempting the impossible in lands where no Indian, nay no man has ever been, making a billion swell with pride, making a billion strive for better, making a billion dream, it leaves us with no doubt. He’s our Spaceman. That’s his legacy.

So long, cricket.

Another Sachin Tendulkar century against Australia.