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Saturday, March 18, 2017


When God closes a door, He opens a new one. But when I went to attend Mumbai’s famous Kala Ghoda festival yesterday, God hadn’t closed any door. He had simply made it so crowded with never-ending queues that I didn’t dare to enter. But I was okay with it since I had already visited it once a day back, and it was my second turn. So I decided to enter the new doors which led to Jahangir Art Gallery and National Gallery of Modern Art.
After spending an hour watching the paintings in these two galleries, I decided to take an aimless walk into the nearby area in Kolaba. This place is full of buildings from the Portuguese and British era, and I couldn’t stop admiring their ageless beauty. Compared to those structures, our modern architecture looks too boring and unartistic with its banal and box-like shapes. In the quest for utility, it seemed, we had forgotten the essence of beauty.
Unlike the suburban part of Mumbai where I live, Colaba is spacious, organized, full of greenery and peaceful. Taking a stroll in this area filled me with tranquility, and I remembered how the author had described its history in his book MUMBAI FABLES (the sourcebook of the movie, BOMBAY VELVET).
And then I saw a church. I have studied in a wonderful Christian school in my childhood, and since then I have always had affection for churches because of their peaceful and clean environment. So I thought maybe I should use this opportunity to spend some time here.
Not that I visited dozens of churches in my life, but Cathedral of the Holy Name, Colaba, is the biggest and most beautiful church I have ever been to. Its hall must be as big as a football field, and its walls are full of pictures from the different stages of Christ’s life. Then you have murals of the great saints from Christianity. The ceilings do have the huge paintings of Jesus, and I wondered how they must have been created. Did some great artist paint them in the same way Michelangelo had painted the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City? Or they were painted on canvases and later on fixed upon the ceiling? I have no idea, but they looked wonderful anyway.
I sat there with hundreds of people who had come to attend the prayer and the sermon by the priest. When the music and the prayer started, I got transported into the last scene of GODFATHER where Michel Corleone’s sister’s son is getting baptized by the priest in a majestic church while his gunmen are busy shooting the heads of five families of New York. Surprisingly, I was sitting in a church, but my mind was playing the most violent scene of one of the most violent movies made in the world cinema. That’s the distracting power of movies.
Within minutes, GODFATHER vanished from my mind, and I started enjoying the prayer. It was a joyful experience being surrounded by the beautiful artwork, peaceful ambience, soulful music and spiritual vibes. After the prayer, the head priest got up and started giving a sermon on God’s laws and why we should follow them. He started with the importance of traffic rules, and very soon switched to the difference between sexual desire and lust.
According to him, it’s okay to have a sexual desire for your wife, but it’s not okay to have lust for a woman you are not married to. Well, that’s the difference between sexual desire and lust. If you want to have a good time with your wife, that’s sexual desire. And if you have similar ambitions for some other woman, it’s lust. Simple and clear! But his speech seemed very male-centric. He didn’t explain if it applied to women as well.
Then he went on defining the act of adultery. He said if you have a desire for a woman outside your marriage, you have already committed adultery. You have one unguarded thought, and you are already a sinner. I wondered if somebody really had so much control over his thoughts. And if somebody has acquired such a superhuman control over his thoughts, he won’t need to listen to such sermons.
Suddenly I noticed I was sitting next to a young and good looking woman. So far, I was oblivious to her existence, soaking in the joyful aroma of the place, but the priest’s speech on adultery made me conscious about her. I realized I shouldn’t be having any desire for her while sitting in a church and listening to God’s words. The more I tried to control my thoughts, the more my mind focused on her. If the priest hadn’t discussed about sin, I won’t have felt attracted towards committing a sin. Unknowingly and unintentionally, the priest had pushed me towards the path he wanted to stop me from taking. It gave me an insight into why the religious types are more prone towards becoming sinners.
After his speech, more songs and prayers followed, and the music distracted my mind from the possibility of adultery. I started enjoying myself again. I decided that I will surely visit this church whenever I come to this area in future. This experience was simply too beautiful to miss.
Then after some instruction from the priest, many people got up and started moving towards two nuns. I also stood up and joined a queue. The nuns were offering them white sweets which looked like Indian ‘batasha’. I thought this was the Christian version of our Hindu ‘prasad’ offered after worship. When my turn came, the nun asked me something I couldn’t understand.
So I said, “Sorry, ma’am!” The expression on the nun’s face became slightly unpleasant, and she asked in an authoritative voice, “Are you a Catholic?” I said, “No”. Then the nun spoke, maintaining the voice tone, “This is only for Catholics.” I gave a polite smile and moved away from her.
My plans of staying there and visiting this church again got destroyed in a second. I quietly came out of the church. From the street, I gave a last look at the church and thanked Jesus. After all, she had only asked me if I were a Catholic. It might have been more unpleasant if she had asked me if I were a Christian.

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