My Grandmother and My Relationship with God by Ashim Malhotra, New York, USA

My Grandmother and My Relationship With God

by Ashim Malhotra, New York, USA

It is midnight. I am sitting on my computer trying to understand my role in the vast universe, my part in the swank theatre of life. Outside my window the wind is howling in a dangerous voice teething with centuries of pain and listless desire. The oak seems to bend his hoary head in pensive obeisance. And inside my head and that mad, beating thing screwed in my chest a scathing desire, so deep it comes from an ancient source lost in time, like the lustful cry of the first Hunter as he saw his prey and sharpened his flint. There are times when romantic literature helps. For after all, what have we to define and experience the world around us, if not words? As I hum, "desirelessness is also a desire" and aim to soothe my troubled mind, something comes to me from one sangat, a long time ago, when as in Arundhatti Roy's world, I was a little boy in shorts, scamping on familiar territory and The Worst Sin was lying to your parents. Something comes back, comes home. Some fraction of memory, a ghost of a different life, where faith in God was as much an unquestionable commodity, as going to school the next day, when things were right and days began with the rising sun and a morning prayer in school assembly halls with the fresh scent of soap on my friends' skins and the smell of hair oil.

My grandmother was the sarpanch of the Nizzamuddin sangat. It was a Big Thing. You would sit on mats on the floor and listen to her talk about God and all things holy and pure. You could see how her old hands shook as she spoke with a quiet confidence, reserve and a belief in her own words that only comes with age and an unwavering faith in what you are saying. At night I would sleep huddled up against her, with a child's faith in her absolute power, knowing that as long as I was touching her shawl, the monster under the bed, the one with the ugly green eyes and a mouth ever hungry for eight year olds, could not harm a hair on my head. Now many years later, in this dark room with a winter storm outside, she comes to my rescue one more time. It was something she said in a sangat once. Or at least so I believe. It is so pure and simple, as true things always are, even if she had not said it, I would ascribe it to her. The conversation was about God. Someone had asked that as a Nirankari, one's expected to serve humanity surrendering tan, man, dhan in that service. Tan and dhan are easy to comprehend and explain by virtue of being definable. Man, on the other hand, is the tricky one. In English, the closest one can get is the heart, or even perhaps the mind, if you consider Hinduism as the contextual background (the contention being that man, may also be interpreted as the intellectual description of the illusion-reality, Maya). So as was obvious, here was an intellectual paradox, a stemming impasse, for how could one give up desire (for desire for God is also a desire) or as differently interpreted, the mind (for then one becomes incapacitated from ever learning about God) and still attain Parmatma? The debate raged on and my grandmother listened to it all with uncharacteristic patience. Finally, since she was addressing the assembly, she was asked the same question. All she said was, "I don't know if I am educated enough to answer that question. To my rustic mind, there are only two ways of living- either you believe, or you do not believe. There is nothing beyond this duality. Defining words and deciphering syntax is merely playing with language. Faith, by nature, by definition if you will, is indefinable. So you either walk on water or you don't."

These days I am cross with God. I do not talk to him. I don't think I like him anymore (and therefore the lower case). I threaten him that if he doesn't give me what I want I shall sell my soul to Satan. Then mother tells me something she heard at sangat. If you ask God for something he gives it to you. And then someone said that it is God's nature to give. So even if you don't ask him, he gives. Mum thinks that the difference is, that when you ask him he gives you, what you want. But when you surrender yourself to him totally, when you don't ask for this or that he gives you what he wants to give you, what in other words is right for you. Definitions.

As I lay my tired head on my pillow, knowing that spring beckons from flowers waking from their wintry slumber, and that the cares of the world and the intricate web of sin, desire and work I have spun around me, like some mad, suicidal spider shall once again claim me tomorrow, knowing full well that she is no longer there, I find myself once again reaching out for my grandmother's shawl. Still with an unshakable conviction in her strength, hoping for the same rustic faith. A faith beyond questions, beyond language and sin.

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