Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sunday afternoon

Sunday morning and a knock on the door. A stranger.

Who hands me a picture of guru nanak, benevolently gazing at nothing at a forty-five degree angle. I take it, finger it, and look expectantly at the stranger.
He says that there's a special function organised by the colony. At the gurudwara close by. A langar for the poor and water stalls for all thirsty passersby. I begin to calculate mentally how much I could spare.
The stranger whipped out a tiny bill-book. "Whatever you find it in your heart to give... sister. What is your name?"
I hesitated. Though I was half-willing to pay, shut the door and go back to sleep, something was holding me back. Yet, this was common enough. Every year, every festival, a knock on the door.
He extended another photo to me - some sort of religious ceremony underway. I glance at it but do not take it.
He asks, "Are you Punjabi?"
"That doesn't matter. Everybody has given. Even the students living downstairs."
For some reason I don't understand, I said "No, I don't think I can."
"Whatever you can. It is god's work." And that just made it worse.

"No thank you, I cannot attend and I cannot help." and I handed back the tiny picture.
He simply rustled his bill-book. "But you must. Sister, come tell me your name... And you should also pray. Every morning, you should spend some time, hold out your hands like this, and -"
Snap. "I have no faith. I don't pray."
"This if for the poor. They will be fed at the langar."
"When I want to give to the poor, I can do so directly. I don't need you to organise it for me."
"Everybody else has given."
"Sorry, I cannot."
He half-turns to go. "Are you a student?"
"No" and I shut the door.

It took me ten minutes to figure out what had happened. Why, despite being half-willing to pay up and be done with it, I refused so stubbornly. It was the awful mixture of religion and money. It was the pressure. It was the attempt to make me do somehing on the grounds that everybody else had done so. It was the invocation of the poor in that pitying-bullying tone.

And it took me another half an hour to realise that gurudwaras have langars anyway (a tradition that I admire and wish all other religions wouls emulate). All are free to step in, cover their heads and eat. I have never heard of a gurudwara organising a langar on the strength of door-to-door collections on a Sunday afternoon. What, then, was this collection for? Who was this young man?

On my way out, later in the afternoon, I checked to see if there was any water stall set up on the road outside the colony. There wasn't.


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Why would charity need the crutch of religion?
I think organised religion sucks. Though Sikhism, with its robust values, is worthy of repsect.


Falstaff said...

Man seeks you out, makes false promise, tries to get money out of you, points to the fact that everyone else is doing it to gain legitimacy, acts morally outraged and makes you feel bad about yourself when you don't give him what he wants.

Now that's what I call the true religious spirit.

jaygee said...

Hey this happened to me too... but it was the promise of a hanuman cause. I flat out refused and shut the door on their face and went out half an hour later to check if they had gone. Actually they assumed it would be our third roommate and had started their spiel in hindi.. alas no luck for them...

Bleddy Blogger said...

Did you ask the college students downstairs if they had really given this bloke any money?

zap said...

you met a religion-entrepreneur in the making. tomorrow he'll be getting funded by Beacon Partners to set up a chain of temples? Day after, i'll try and sell him the idea of organising online video darshans and poojas for major temples. Big market you see.
If you cant beat them, try and take their money i say! i'm considering it:)

Banno said...

I've resented giving these hand-outs in the name of religion often enough, but never had the guts to say a flat no!!

Me said...

I don't believe in Shani devta on the busy crossings.
I don't believe in Mata ka Jagran in the neighbourhood.
I don't believe in Holika on Holi.
And thank god, my religion doesn't make me superstitious each time I refuse to give for any of those cause.
I also don't believe the Gujarat victims who have the money to come all the way to UP to ask for money.

the mad momma said...

Well that was a stroke of luck because in the normal course of things you would have just handed some money over. you are that kind. There is a God above ensuring that ppl dont crook kind souls like you.. and He has nothing to do with religion..

zap said...

@ The Mad Momma - Eh? I hope you agree that you are making terrific claims about 'a god above', without any evidence.

Vicky said...

These are the incidents that harm our willingness to help people who are really in need. 'Coz of all these frauds, we can't differentiate between the needy and the fake.

Nikhil said...

What's that term again? Bully of humility, I think

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