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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.


I was hoping to write a little something every day to capture what is going on in my head whilst I am out here. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the fact that I could get ill, and after throwing up every hour for the past two days, and having slept solidly for the past 20 hours, reaching for a laptop has sort of been at the back of my mind. After tentatively having some solid food for breakfast and feeling my insides settle a little bit, after what can only be described as a tsunami hitting the lower half of my body, I am ready to start writing again. Let me start from where I left on off two days ago in Jamnagar.

The great thing about Jamnagar is that it is a portal to many different parts of Gujarat. Located somewhat in the centre, it gave us the opportunity to choose a number of places to go without worrying about driving for hours on end. For me, there was only one real choice. Porbandar. Not because it is the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, although this was a factor, but this was the place that my grandmother passed when she visited with my aunt and father only 3 years before. It would be the first time that they had gone back since the incident, which cut the fabric of our family in half 2 days before my 18th birthday.

I was apprehensive which was expected. Three years ago, she arrived in Porbandar in the evening, hoping to see the sights the following morning, but the day never came. Our first stop was the temple of Harshadimata, the goddess of individual families, who was allotted to us in some fashion before I was born – our own patron saint. I am not really sure how these things work, nor did I really have the inclination to ask, but I know that it was important to her. She died to be here.

The drive was longer than I was expecting. Considering our driver was from a different state in India, and there were no signs that I could see directing us towards the small village in which the temple stood, I was impressed that we got there at all. As soon as we set down, we took the fancy of a couple of children who tried to sell us religious offerings to deliver at the shrine, before they got distracted by a tour bus that pulled in behind us and realised that they had chosen the wrong crowd. I remember it being dusty, warm and quiet. Really very quiet for India.

The temple itself was such a disappointment. I hoped that I would feel some sort of connection, knowing how special it was to her, but there was nothing. An earthen idol, set back in the orange and green of its surroundings, it seemed like nothing special – and so I sat back in the dilapidated arches of the outer courtyard and felt that crushing feeling of lost expectations. Dad and I walked out towards the river adjoining the town, the opposite side of the temple, and he explained how the first strands of hair of both my brother and I were submerged here. How decades ago, in this small little town, we found a new beginning. And this was all part of the journey.

The next thing I remember is sitting in a strange house looking at the silky, red carpet on the floor. It was probably the most expensive thing in the house and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The owner of the rug and the house was one of the last men to see my grandmother alive and the first to see her dead. Kailashbhai, a humble dress shop owner and distant cousin on my father’s side, was our final stop for the day – we visited to thank him and his wife for their help three years ago. Unfortunately, I fear it was the food that I ate there which made me feel so unwell, but it was worth it to see one of the men who saved my father’s sanity when it happened.

I believe I have now met all of the people that were there that fateful February night in Porbandar. The three different families in three different locations. All incredibly unassuming and welcoming. All with a firm sense of duty. Whilst the shrine may not have developed any feelings within me whatsoever, Porbandar rekindled the faith of something much more important.

Faith in people.