Ruskin Bond is one of our favourite authors. The other day I got his book, ‘A flight of pigeons’ from the library. It was written sometime in the 1970s and reprinted in 2014. He writes in the Introduction which was written in 2002, “ I feel this novella still has some relevance today, when communal strife and religious intolerance threatens the lives and livelihood of innocent law-abiding people. (unfortunately this is true even now ) It was Pascal who wrote : ‘ Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
This brought to mind conversations I had had with my friends sometime ago. We are born into our religion. Customs and traditions are an important part of our lives. Whether we follow them or not is left to us. But listening to my friend I realized that many do not have the freedom to lead their lives as they wish to. They are controlled by their religion. It is as if they follow all the rites and rituals not because they want to but mainly out of fear. And this fear is not just of bad consequences but also the fear what ‘people’ would say. And just who those people are, I could not understand. Yes, there are enough and more people who are always ready to criticize and pass their comments. The fear of getting a bad name is very strong and with it is the fear of being blacklisted. My father-in-law used to say that long back men were expelled from the community if they married outside the community or if they married widows! Social pressure played a very important part in the lives of people and for many it still does. I asked if the younger generation was also expected to follow all the rules and regulations. The answer was yes, otherwise the parents would get a bad name and be labelled as bad parents.
It seemed to me that it was stranglehold from which there was no escape. So much control seems so suffocating. Maybe I feel this way but for many, like my friend, it is a part of their daily lives, a routine. She says all the rites and rituals are so much a part of her life that she just cannot imagine not following them.
In our community we do have our own rites and rituals but somehow they have never controlled us, the fear of what ‘people’ will say is not there, we have more freedom. Of course it depends on people, what they think and what they believe. People who are interested, enjoy doing all that their religion wants them to do. Their belief and faith is always with them. I think when control and fear and belief reaches the extreme, what Pascal says becomes true. Really unfortunate.
“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”
― Rabindranath Tagore