I have never been a very religious person.

Both my parents  brought up in typical Malalayli Brahmin households had an overdose of rituals and religious practices during their childhood .And so by the time they got jobs, flew the nest and got married, they had decided not inflict their own children with all the religious rituals that were forced upon them during their childhood. Not that my parents were atheists, they just didn’t believe that we needed to blindly follow the religious practices prescribed by our ancestors. So they stuck to the basic lighting of the lamp at the altar followed by a brief and silent prayer.

So my elder sister and I grew up with hardly any exposure to the typical  pujas, chants, mantras, and religious practices  that most of the Hindu children are ex posed to during their childhood. Only during our annual summer vacation visit to Kerala,  grandmom shocked at our lack of progress on the religious path would insist that we chant a certain mantram everyday at dusk, etc. .Which we would religiously( pun unintended) follow for a couple of weeks on our return back home and then slowly these would be forgotten as we got back into the more serious task of enjoying the last few days of our vacation.

When I was about 11 or 12 years old, feeling the peer pressure, I actually felt the need for conventional religious rituals in my life. I wondered why my mother never insisted that we chant or even pray on a daily basis. I had the feeling that I was missing out on some of the special blessings that was being distributed to his pious followers by the Lord proportionate to the number of times his name was chanted.So that year on our annual summer vacation visit to Kerala, I decided to follow in the path of my cousin who I had heard was quite regular in her daily chants. And so on day one, I nodded with approval as she stated that she had to chant ‘Hare Rama’ 100 times later on in the night. Imagine my shock when she settled down in front of the TV ( to watch Chitrahar or something similar in Malayalam ) when she went about her religious chanting . That’s when I understood the reasoning behind my parent’s decision to not pressurize us with too many religious practices. Since then I have been very happy with the simple practice of silently sending out a prayer without the frills of the religious practices.

This brings me to the book that I finished reading last week- Nine Lives by William Dalrymple. When I read the reviews, I was a little skeptical as the nine stories seemed to be about people who seemed to be have nothing in common with my religious beliefs.

I decided to give the first story a try and if it appealed to me, to continue with the rest of the stories. I read ‘The Nun’s tale’ and I was so captivated by the sheer faith of the nun in her Jain beliefs.As I read the story, I could empathize with her as she dealt with the pain of losing her best friend to ill-health and self-starvation, at the same time trying to stay detached and continue on the road to spiritual progress .I continued reading the rest of stories and the pure faith of the all main characters comes though so clearly. Even though I  don’t  concur with some of the views held by the characters( for example the strong focus on caste system in ‘The Maker of Idols’ or the animal sacrifice in ‘The Lady Twilight’), but as each story unfolded, I could feel and appreciate the intensity of their faith.

I am no expert on Spiritual/ Religious matters. I don’t know if there is are multiple Gods/Supreme beings out there, each watching over only the earthly beings who follow in the path prescribed by him. I don’t even know for a fact if there is a Divine presence at all.But over the years I have slowly come to believe that there are many prescribed paths to reach out to the One Divine presence. And finally what matters are the good intentions and faith of the followers as they walk on the path that seems most appropriate to them.

The stories of Nine Lives just enhanced this belief of mine.