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The Cost of Faith

I wouldn’t say I am religious, but I would affirm I am spiritual. I do not like doctrine and I find the word religion to be incredibly loaded. The practice of religion is very much a currency in India – every place of worship, especially the ones that we have been to, will be surrounded by shops and attractions that require money. It is impossible to estimate how much this brings in, but you can assume it is a hefty amount and it is inevitably mostly cash in hand.

When my parents brought me up, they were not afraid to admit that they did not have the answers to my questions. Whenever we conducted anything religious, there were always holes to be found in meanings and understandings, but it was a challenge to find out the answer – it was not something to be ignored. This inquisitiveness has never left me. In fact, it has probably permeated into every part of my life.

Our last day in Mumbai was important to my Mum. The school of thought within which my family has learnt about Hinduism is based in a small insitution in Mumbai. Early on a Sunday morning we made our way to the lecture theatre and sat in the room where the teaching had first begun over 80 years ago. Having seen it on videos and in pictures, it was like de ja vu when we walked into the courtyard and took to the benches at the back.

The man who started the movement demanded that it should not be outwardly publicised, but instead should be passed from person to person, so I will not name him here. However, this weekend would have been the celebration of his 95th birthday and so there were people present from all over the world. My mother had actually met him when he had been alive, and their first meeting was when she was only a girl, a little younger than me, just 20km away from where we stood.

He was responsible for the development of the first university in the world that was built on the ancient tapovan system of education – focusing on the development of the individual, rather than their future aspirations. This unassuming campus was tucked away in the suburbs of Mumbai and it was the beginning of my Mum’s faith. It would also be the birthplace of mine.

It is difficult to describe. There were very few buildings, but the place itself was inundated with nature. It was completely green and you could barely hear the sounds of the noisy highway once you were through the gates. The intention was to create tranquillity. To remove the impurities of the mind by purifying the landscape around them. It had a profoundly uplifting quality.

The students were mild mannered and wore simple white clothes. There was not much talking and people from all walks of life trundled barefoot through the landscape. It was only open to visitors on a Sunday afternoon for a few hours and so this was a chance for the outside world to creep in and take a peek. There was a point in my adolescence when I thought this could be my destination, but that seems like a long time ago now.

Before we left, Mum stood standing in front of the flowered gateway. She was crying and looking forward in silence. She told me how she remembered the last time she was here and spoke to the man who made this place a reality. He was sitting on a bench and greeted her like a distant uncle – she remembered seeing a twinkle in his eye but was too naïve to understand the impact that he would have in her life at that point. Years later she stood in the same spot and imparted that knowledge to us knowing that this was where it had all begun, where it had all started to make sense.

A stranger looking onward came over to ask her why she was crying. She said they were tears of longing joy. He smiled warmly and introduced himself and his wife. They made polite conversation and reminded us of the reasons why he was there – to reinvigorate his faith. Mum smiled back and looked at me with the same expression. She was not upset anymore. He took his leave and I never learned his name, but I remember his warm smile and the way his eyes lit up when we spoke.

That probably doesn’t mean much, but it made all the difference to me. There are many places here that will measure the size of your faith by the thickness of your wallet. They will try to fool you and capture your belief. However, I am forever grateful for the fact that my faith was presented to me as my decision. I was not told what to believe and not vilified for what I thought. It has always been a healthy process of re-assessment and contemplation.

I am happy to be a part of something that recognises the kindness and dignity of complete strangers. For a man to look at us and offer conversation as a means of solace, with no ulterior motive. When you can instil a thought like that, there isn’t the need for expensive prayers. Humanity is enough.

Nine Two Five

Working life is in itself an oxymoron. I have found it very difficult to distinguish between work and my life since I started my internship. The company itself, to its credit, prides itself on finding the right work/life balance and making sure that you have something outside of the job. Yet it is very difficult to find that when you are interning. The idea that you are 5 weeks away from a job that could secure you for the next chapter, makes it difficult to make time to play tennis three times a week.

It is this constant nagging concern that you aren’t doing enough. There is no benchmark for knowing what is going to happen, and so you are working, thinking, doing everything you can to impress. And it’s absolutely exhausting. Looking back after half my time in this job, I have never worked so hard in my life, and I usually work for myself. The ability to prioritise, work at a thousand miles an hour and make sure that I make the 17:36 train to London Waterloo makes it a challenge every day.

I would be lying if I said that I enjoyed every second of it. Everyone who says that is lying. At times, it is incredibly stressful, upsetting and downright frustrating. I am starting to make headway, but it has been a very steep learning curve.

Luckily, I do have a great manager who is incredibly perceptive to the journey that I am on. In a typical 9 to 5, it feels like I am doing 925 hours of work and he is appreciative of that. However, there are plenty I have seen that have killed the motivation of interns they have working for them because they simply don’t have time. It amazes me how managers forget that they started at the bottom rung of the ladder and someone gave them a step up.

I have no idea whether I am going to get this job or not. And now five weeks in, I realise that this is out of my control. What I can control is how I present myself in this environment. Winning means doing the best you can, and if it doesn’t work here, then it will work somewhere else. Effort has never let me down. It has always taught me to be hungry for more.

I am taking this weekend to reflect about how I am really doing. Personally, rather than professionally. I think that is why I am starting by writing down my thoughts here. My development is as important as the bottom line.