Recently, I spent a month on the road, in search of the perfect place for me to set up a home for myself -- away from the big cities that have not been kind to my health despite my valiant efforts to not let them "get to me:.
As I travelled mostly by foot or car and saw acre after acre of land and how it was and wasn't being used, two things became very clear to me.
The farther away from religion you get, the closer to nature you will be. The closer to nature you are, the closer you are to god.
Literally any rural area without a temple was far likely to be less polluted -- the air, the land, the noise and the thought.
I don't say this as an atheist or as a believer but as someone exploring the land of our vast country. Whenever I saw a temple, a dargah, a church, I noticed that while the property itself was always immaculate, the surrounding areas were bereft of nature. Instead they were surrounded by retail establishments set up to satiate the needs and demands of the faithful; often, I'd see garbage piled up, generally comprising abandoned puja trays and the detritus of worship (among other things) discarded by the faith-goers.
Yes, the same people who will not litter on the platform of the Delhi metro for fear of a fine are completely comfortable defecating in the holy river that they've come to pray at; sites where people scatter the ashes of their deceased loved ones.
It's a strange thing that commercialism and religion have become so synonymous. I told my driver that literally any rural area without a temple was far likely to be less polluted -- the air, the land, the noise and the thought.
This is key. These four pollutions can kill us, yet we willingly play along and make no changes to our lives.
I used to live in Mumbai in a location just behind a Sai Baba temple. I thought it was lovely that there were so many people of so many faiths coming together to sing his praises. Yet every Thursday night, while weddings or Navratri celebrations would not be allowed, the temple-goers kept singing and chanting till beyond midnight. I would wonder why this was allowed. I remember seeing sleep-deprived children at 6am, sluggishly going to school to write their exams. No one seemed fazed that the noise could actually prevent someone from sleeping and impair their functioning.
Devotional in content or not, noise is noise. It may calm some believers, but what about everyone else?
If nature is a gift of god, how can we violate it the way we have, and most importantly justify it in the name of religion?
But that's a big city. I was staying in a gorgeous cliffside cottage in Kerala and the silence beyond the sea waves was deafening. Yet at 5am, I was woken up not to roosters crowing but namaz. The area being so isolated I wondered why exactly they needed to broadcast it so loudly. Was anyone actually following suit? Even if there were, what about my serenity?
Finding a place in India without noise either requires deafness or literally being in the middle of the forest. Most hills and mountain peaks have temples already flag-posted there. Most beaches and rivers are also booked. Every old tree or every disputed property (and there are too many) also house religious interests, and then finally you have properties nationwide that are set up to accommodate black money donations.
It makes me wonder how self-fearing we all are that we are willing to put religion above nature and think that the two are separate. If nature is a gift of god, how can we violate it the way we have, and most importantly justify it in the name of religion?
There is a large stretch of land along the Kerala and Karnataka border that used to contain bamboo trees and a wildlife sanctuary for elephants. Today, it's a parking lot of mansions built for NRIs who don't even live there. The elephants have had nowhere to go but north and now they are in desperate search for food, landing up in coffee plantations and stomping on workers -- literally.
The closer to nature you are, the closer you are to god.
These same elephants are then paraded at temples where if you pay its pimp (aka caretaker) a sizable amount, the elephant will bless you. How exactly is this a blessing? Here's an animal whose home we destroyed and whose food we've now turned into houses, and whom we now keep in a sandbox for the entire day, and he's going to bless us?
It might seem like I'm targeting one religion more than others, but that that's because we are a predominantly Hindu country. It doesn't mean that sizeable Muslim and Christian communities are not guilty of the same kinds of transgressions.
I could also ask why there need to be five churches in a village within a half-km radius and why no one in them extends a helping hand to locals who are starving and struggling to make ends meet. I could ask why the dargah is being freshly painted again, and yet patrons are hustling foreigners for money.
As I stated above, the farther away from religion we get, the closer to nature we are. I've decided that wherever I live, it needs to be right by a wildlife reserve or preferably inside one. That seems to be the only place where deforesting is not happening and Haldirams packets are least likely to make an appearance on a hiking trail.
Let's all say a prayer for our future and not expect god to do all the work for us.
But it's something as a country we must realize. The blessings that we seek by visiting and funding places of worship... are we really getting them? It's time we praise the real god that is there for us and still giving us the chance to breathe, drink water and enjoy the land.
If I need to become Nature Babaji -- I'm ready. It's time we stop blessing our new cars at the temple and instead walk barefoot in the forest and get blessed by the trees and fresh air that breathe more life into us than any vehicle killing our environment.
True devotion is different from blind faith. First let's have faith in what we see. And I can't be the only one that sees that our world, our country, our land is getting destroyed. Let's all say a prayer for our future and not expect god to do all the work for us.