Thursday, November 06, 2014

How I became an atheist and escaped God's wrath

People find it so difficult to believe that a breed of people do exist who do not need to thank and blame god for every damn thing.

Ananya Bhattacharya    @ananya116

About half a decade back, I chose to give up religion. I’d always been more-than-adequately sceptical about it all along, but the final step required the comfort of a solitary life. In a family known for its love of home deities, choosing not to perform the post-shower puja, or refusing to be a part of the shondhya-aarti, was not only unthought of, but also lethally blasphemous. And that they had a hardcore rebel with an appetite for not-doing-exactly-what-she-had-been-asked-to-do for a daughter, never made the task of force-feeding religion an easy one for my parents. And then there were the Jesus-worshipping nuns in school. From entire hour-long periods in the daily time table devoted to a subject called "prayer", to weekly moral science classes when we’d be taken to the school chapel just to sit, close our eyes and pray, we’d been at the receiving end of it all.

From the all-destroying Goddess Kali at home to the all-forgiving Father in school, religion was something that I could never imagine a life without, back then. We were taught, back home, in the family, to close our eyes and pray to Adya Ma (an incarnation of Kali) before going to sleep. And in school, we were taught to thank God Almighty before going to sleep. However, the tired-to-the-core, juiced-out 12-year-old body of mine fell asleep, many a time, halfway through the process of thanking these numerous gods. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

In a somewhat modern, progressive, nuclear Bengali family, the puja-paath rituals end up taking a backseat, most of the time. When the numerous with-a-nose-for-criticising-whatever-came-their-way relatives dropped by for a visit, however, it was a different tale altogether at home. The week or so that one of this species would spend at our home, used to be fraught with tension at the least and panic at the most.

"Your daughter sleeps till 1pm on Saturdays. Why don’t you say something? Why doesn’t she have a bath on time and do the daily puja?"

Groggily, with half-opened eyes, I retorted saying that it was a Saturday. Her god could wait for me.

"Isshh. Ki baaje meye! (Such a terrible girl!) You people have spoilt your daughter with so much of affection ("laai" is the actual word that was always used. An exact translation is impossible to zero in on.)

"Baaje meye" that I was, I always went back to sleep, not paying any heed to my Mejo Pishi’s numerous complaints. She’d be gone in a week, the logical part of my brain reasoned. And any which way, I was always the one tainted and painted with the "baaje meye" tag. Big deal. No god rescued me from the clutches of these insidious relatives. The task, yet again, fell on my 13-year-old somewhat-frail shoulders. One fine morning, when this particular Pishi of mine began her tirade, I went ahead and asked her to leave me alone. All hell broke loose. But then, who cared. Good riddance, goodbye.

Once in college, safely away from the eagle-eyed surveillance and 24x7 caustic comments of relatives, I found my new religion by bidding goodbye to the earlier mishmash of Kali-Jesus, etc. I discovered atheism. And thought that I’d received my salvation. There were no long prayers of asking forgiveness from a certain god at the end of the day; and sleep was still uninterrupted. Nothing of the sort that we’d been threatened by for years – "thaakur paap debe" (God will punish you if you don’t pray, etc.) – happened. But an extremely religious roommate happened.

This roommate’s first question when we met was – "You are a Bhattacharya. You must do your pujas several times a day, no?", which was followed by her gasps when I said that I was an atheist. My fate in that room that we shared was pretty much decided right then. I was an atheist. Ergo, an untouchable. Conversations between the two of us were few and far between and totally driven by basic needs if they happened to happen, after that. My roommate conducted her own pujas, with her miniature gods safely tucked away inside the cupboard (for the fear of being stolen by her atheist of a roommate, maybe, who knows). At times, I stared at her stealthily, amused at her ways; at others, I shamelessly slept through her morning rituals, ignoring her mutterings and curses. Back then, there was even a rumour doing the rounds of the hostel – this particular roommate had apparently pleaded with the warden to shift her to a different room, with a different person, but the plea had fallen on deaf ears of the not-as-religious warden of ours.

Later, I faced the frowns and fears and frightened stares of even more roommates. "Aap ko yeh kaise hua?", like atheism was an incurable disease that I needed to be rid of; "Aap kaise manage kar leti hai without praying?", to which, my response was mostly that I didn’t need to pray and that I was fine without praying, too, followed by glares of disgust.

Many a time, I’ve had to deal with questions like, "But what do you do when something goes wrong?" People find it so difficult to believe that a breed of people do exist who do not need to thank and blame god for every damn thing that goes right or wrong in their lives, respectively. In this haven of frenetic god-worshippers called North India, atheism is nothing less than AIDS; Ebola, in current time – perhaps more incurable a disease. You see, proclaiming to people that you are an atheist or filling in the word "atheist" in the column marked "religion" in an interview, categorises you instantly. You are "the other". The one to be scared of; since you are not scared of an omnipotent omniscient God-with-a-capital-"G".

There is a certain need for people on the other side of the fence to realise that yes, we do exist. We are living, breathing creatures, who go through the same ups and downs that they do. It’s just that we don’t have a god to run to every single time something goes wrong. We’re atheists, not aliens. Forgive us Father, but we haven’t sinned!

Source: daily O

Read life and works of Gora (Goparaju Ramachandra Rao), Indian social reformer and atheist activist. He started his activism against superstition in 1920s. He published Nasthikatvamu: Devudu ledu (There is no God) in Telugu in 1941 (English translation: Atheist Centre is a social change institution founded by Gora (1902- 75) and Saraswathi Gora (1912 - 2006) in the year 1940 at Mudunur Village in Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh, India.



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