By Bhoot Jolokia
The Indian nation-state is represented as a female and sometimes, I wonder how she bears the weight of the millions that live here. It must be cumbersome, mustn’t it? Although, immense gratitude to her for tolerating us. I wouldn’t tolerate myself if given a choice; here she is tolerating millions like me.
In India, you will find a variety of characters. The seven sins will be represented with an unnerving veracity. The diversity is astonishing; styles of curry preparation will change after kilometers, dialects will alter with districts, skin tone, and features will morph with states.
The only people who share a commonality across the length and breadth of India are the peddlers.
What the word peddler means, I’ll leave to you to decide. But have you ever considered peddlers to be men quoting scriptures from holy books? Perhaps not.
The white preacher who cured the hunchback of Golaghat
In the latter half of the 2000s, I was a young impressionable school student. Near my house, there was a Church. It was the biggest and the most significant Church in town.
Winter had stealthily arrived and with it came a preacher all the way from Australia.
Our colonial history imbibed in us a sense of servile reverence for the white man. In a town so small, the arrival of a white man, a preacher no less, was bound to create a sensation.
As the date of his arrival neared, people could be overheard gossiping about him. People seemed to be more excited to see him, a foreigner, in person, rather than listening to his sermons.
The idea of a foreigner in India is heavily influenced by western films. People thronged to see Sonia Gandhi deliver a speech in this very town in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a white woman. With equal zeal they awaited the arrival of this mysterious man.
In my locality, there was a hunchback cowherd with striking white hair. Everyone knew him. If you woke up early enough you could see him grazing his cows. He scared plenty in the evening, when he walked past people, hunching whilst following his cows diligently. He was a fine chap, kept to himself and only focused on his work.
A huge stage with loudspeakers was constructed for the preacher’s first sermon. An interlocutor was invited from another town to translate for general masses. Everyone would be provided the opportunity to be bleesed.
The morning before the public sermon, news spread like wildfire around town that the preacher cured hunchback. Everyone was amazed. The hunchback was nowhere to be seen. Eye witnesses who claimed that he had been cured were enthusiastically repeating what they saw.
Apparently, the hunchback was blessed by Jesus on special request by the preacher. He sat upright, with grace and poise that could put the local Bholu wrestler to shame.
God’s own personal broker
Finally, the day of the sermon arrived. The preacher took the stage and the public looked at each other and nodded knowingly. An unspoken understanding passed that a great man from the land of the whites was here.
The preacher spoke in great detail about Jesus being the saviour of all, love and compassion, and miracles. Most people only registered the word miracle.
The townsfolk were probably hoping for Jesus’ own personal broker to arrange a good deal for them. Personally, I was hoping for a playstation. He droned on for hours and eventually, I got bored. The excitement of seeing a miracle inducing white man had faded.
As people were starting to yawn, the preacher started yelling, ‘Amen’ and asked everyone to follow suit. No one understood what ‘Amen’ is but they repeated it anyway. The preacher called forth people who had diseases, he asked them to believe in god, have faith, and yell, ‘Amen’. He promised that their woes, their ailments will be cured.
In the ailing members of the crowd, who had moved forward upon the preacher’s calling, I saw two friends of mine, one was a upper caste staunch Hindu Brahmin and the other was the son of a Muslim professor. I knew that those two had no ailments but they did not want to miss the chance to scream ‘Amen’ at the top of their voice, in the hope that god’s own broker will facilitate their requests. They were willing to compromise on their respective choices of god as long as their hopes of miracles worked.
After hours of yelling, ‘Amen’, which had made most of our voices hoarse, the sermon ended. Everyone went back home, filled with hope to the brim, that the white preacher will do for us what our pot bellied priests and clerics could not do.
Absolutely nothing happened for a month. I had almost forgotten that I was due a miracle from Jesus; after all I had yelled ‘Amen’ with such zeal that it will put some professional protesters at JNU to shame.
What to do when cheated of a miracle
One evening, I was strolling down the road with two of my friends. We were scared to death because we thought something was following us. On closer inspection, it turned out to be the hunchback herding his cows. He was as hunched as ever, nothing had changed, not even his clothes. He kept to himself and went after his cows.
We wondered where he was for a month or if god’s miracle cure had an expiry date. I felt cheated of a playstation by the miracle peddler. But at least I was not cheated of being able bodied, the poor hunchback, I felt bad for him. Maybe he should call the customer care centre for god’s faulty miracles.