THE FLANK OUTSIDE
Once again it reminds me of my early days. Born in a well-read, highly cultured Hindu family with heritage tehzeebs, I was admitted to the convent school in the neighbourhood.
Back home, I was nurtured with the best value systems based on the traditional family sanskaars. And, as I grew, what echoed in me as a child was to live life based on strict moral values – the do’s and the don’ts, the rights and the wrongs, and the appropriate and the in-appropriate. The elders in my well-knit joint family – my grandfather, my father and his brothers and sisters; bade & chote bhaisahebs as we called, often spoke of the antar-atma, I hardly understood. They had been the pillars of our family heritage.
I loved my school. My friends in the middle school and higher secondary. Some rich and some poor, all from different classes and religions. On looking from the window of class IX was the graveyard on one end and the magnificent church on the other, with a large play ground in the forefront of the church foyer.
Often, I would hear the silent knell during the midst of the class. The mortal remains were put to rest, with the holy water and the wreath made of white lilies and jasmine. With two-minute silence, we prayed for the peace of the departed soul – In the name of the father, and the son, and the holy spirit. Amen.
The class split in the last period. The Christians for the Religion Class and the rest for the Moral Science. And one day, curious as I was, I sneaked with my best friend, Ashley, for the former class. In a single row we entered the church – for it was the “confession day”, I was told.
I stood across the confession box with a curtain separating me from the priest and I murmured as the rest, ahead of me – “Father, I want to confess – I erred. I lied”. “In true repentance, lies the forgiveness. Bless you, my child”, the priest replied from behind the curtain.
I kneeled, prayed briefly and moved out of the church along with my friend. And soon I erred again. The confession I made making little or any impact on me.
I moved cities, made new friends and climbed the corporate ladder with all the thin grey between the black and the white. Each step a challenge, questioning the authenticity of the acts I continued to perform. Crediting myself for every good that happened with my intelligence and acumen acquired. And yet, there were moments when my feet dragged – in the thick of the grey at times, when I missed someone to counsel me, as when I was a child. I cursed and blamed the universe for every wrong that happened.
Three decades later, in the August of 2015, with no family around me, having lost a few friends I thought who were closest to me, and having faced more challenges in life, I paced alone in my New Delhi hotel room. As I found myself all alone and no one to judge, with a couple of drinks down, I looked at the mirror. And as I continued to move across the room, I had anger and resentment, and I now spoke aloud, articulating loudly as my inner self felt, in clear crisp voice without the fear of anyone listening and judging – introspecting myself for the first time. And as words flew out of me, making me even more emotional, I now felt like the child standing across the confession box, with a part of me – my conscience across the curtain as the priest.
It took me over three decades to understand that I always had the priest within me, to hear my confessions, to counsel me, bless me!
I wish I had truly nurtured the me within me. The antar-atma in me!