Surrounded by God

I feel so blessed to live in a country that inspires God everywhere you look.

People are named after gods so you cannot help uttering a few sacred names in the course of a usual day. My younger one is named after Goddess Durga. My aunt had a domestic helper called Mahesh (another name for Lord Shiva). He drove her to despair but my mother used to joke with her, “At least you call out God’s name a hundred times a day because of him.”

Temples and mosques jut out into even arterial roads every now and then; sometimes, someone puts up a makeshift shrine right there in the middle of the footpath with a bunch of photos and garlands. Passersby join their palms reverentially as they walk past.

Cars feature windshield stickers with the names of gods on them. In the evenings, the strains of beautiful bhajans (devotional songs) waft into my house from some nearby satsang (prayer meeting) in the building. In the mornings, I play bhajans myself.

Rich men and poor men alike worship Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth; I read somewhere that a majority of Indian businesses had names of gods in them. Workplaces — whether encased in air-conditioned steel and glass and reaching out to the 20th floor or a streetside kulfi (ice cream) vendor — will usually have a holy niche in the wall where framed pictures of deities gather flower petals and dispense blessings.

Sometimes, walls that run around residential compounds or institutions will have photos of gods of all religions on them, from Krishna to Christ — to dissuade the frequent pee-on-the-wall-prone pedestrian, no matter what his denomination.

Tattoo artists will usually have a page of various religious symbols to offer customers, right up there next to the skulls and roses. Gift shops have all kinds of Om keychains or carvings; and oh, gods abound in trendy forms in the malls. The Spanish luxury brand Lladro makes Ram & Sita statuettes; Judith Leiber has a Ganesh clutch.

People go about wearing the ubiquitous tikka on their foreheads or a mauli (red holy thread) on their wrist — just fresh from some pooja (worship) or the other.

Even our very gesture of greeting — the namaste — means “I bow to the Light in you” and is the same whether used for a god or a human.

With all those symbols, signs and omens around us, I’m surprised we aren’t all enlightened beings here. I suppose the fish doesn’t know it’s in water until it isn’t. We take our gods for granted, just like the fish does the sea.

I see You in the marketplace
I see You in the salon
I see You in the clothes hanging out to dry
Fluttering in the breeze
Whispering their paeans of love.


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