As a kid my mum would give me one of those impossibly big old fifty pence pieces to put in the donations basket and pack me off to church with my siblings. Winny, my dear gran, is Roman Catholic. Paying respects to her religious tradition, us five siblings were biblically named in age order; Simon Andrew, Paul Richard, Rachel Mary, Christopher James and Peter Philip. Oh how names can deceive.
Our mother didn’t come to church with us. A housewife with five children, she would wisely take the opportunity to have some time for herself. She would catch up with the two-metre high piles of dirty washing, over-boil some potatoes in the pressure cooker and listen to Fleetwood Mac. And rightly so. She has more important things to do with her Sundays.
Alas, with a collective wallet of two pounds and fifty pence, the Boydell siblings had better things to do with their Sundays too. We never established who mums church spy was who eventually spilled the beans but we’d buy sweets and food for the goats and head down to the farm. As opposed to standing solemnly in some bizarre formal courtesy we would rather connect with the real world.
Exiting the Science museum in Mumbai, the call to Mecca filled the air just as much as the smog. I was appalled at the pollution. Political corruption creating the backdrop of unfinished high-rise construction projects in the thick-aired distance. I looked over the fence across the river. Poor river. Sulphorous. Toxic. Chemical ooze. Human waste funneled into it, dribbling like Satan’s puss onto two-metre high piles of poo-plastic. Rats and matted birds scavenging amongst strewn, putrid mutton masala and flatbreads. The real world is in trouble here.
Backing onto the river is a mosque. Inside, thirty or so men commence their prayer, one of five allotted periods of prayer that day, as God instructed. But bearing in mind the state of the back of their mosque, is their god happy with the way these men are spending their time?
It was a struggle to find peace the other evening. Sitting on the rooftop of the haveli looking up at Fort Mehrangarh across the blue city of Jodhpur. Various religions projected various messages at a mind-numbing amplification across the city like some sort of public religious competition. Discussing the phenomenon with Immy, my haveli host, he offered an interesting perspective. To Immy, a non-believer raised in a Muslim family, he sees religion as the most inhibiting and backward aspect of India. In the tight-knit nooks and crannies of the Jodhpur streets, Immy intimated that tourists will likely interpret Hindus, Jains, Catholics, Christians and Sikhs to be huddled in harmony. However, faced with insidious bias in activities as simple as buying tomatoes, Immy highlights a fundamental lack of co-operation. He says the Hindu led government passes legislation that upsets subscribers to other faiths.
“As soon as my son is of an age, I’ll send him away.” He says, “The future for him is not in India. I feel religion will take us to war again.”
That night, from the same spot, I listened to low military jets above and I watched what appeared to be a ground to air rocket fired at an armoured helicopter. I have no idea if this was a training exercise. I am aware that there is a nearby military base but it was a stark reminder that I was sat upon recently religiously contested land and my head shook.
From a young age I realized that robes just covered the man inside and I opted to spend my fifty pence elsewhere. I didn’t know where my fifty pence was best spent but at least the sweets and the goats were real. I see religion as the result of a global mental illness; huge swathes of patients unable to fathom the unfathomable and finding solace in avoidance therapy. How can you dedicate five slots of your daily time to prayer when you and your mosque are knowingly putrefying the very life-blood of the world around you with plastic and shit? How can you pray to a church that has been convicted of covering up the mass rape of children throughout the 20th and 21st centuries?
Are religions simply human constructs that serve to distract us from the truth about ourselves and the world around us? Immy asks, “Why can’t people understand that we are all from nature?” Judging by the lack of genuine respect for the immediate world outside the window here, it seems that religion is doing nothing to establish that connection.