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.