Religious centres are the best places for studying human nature. All kinds of people assemble there. The best and the worst, the poor and the rich, the mathematician and the novelist, the entire spectrum of human behaviour is available at religious gatherings.
People are driven to religion by entirely different motives. Dag Hammarskjold, a very famous UN Secretary General and Nobel laureate said, when asked why he went to the church every week, “Loyalty to the tribe.”
I was at a Christian retreat centre for a week’s retreat. Retreat is a kind of meditation, self-analysis, prayer, or whatever you would want it to be. I had gone for the retreat because I was failing in my life. I was becoming an alcoholic. Rather, I had become one. And someone suggested the retreat as a remedy when all other remedies including psychoanalysis had failed.
I said “someone”. But the someone was none other than my boss.
My boss was a good man. He was religious. I mean he was a priest. He still is. But the story has to be told in the past tense, according to the English lecturer, my colleague. I am a mathematics lecturer who doesn’t know anything about story telling. So I asked for help from the English lecturer who scowled at me when I said I wanted to write a story. How can a mathematics lecturer write stories? He wondered. Mathematics is bloody numbers without a heart. Stories are words from the heart, he said.
I have no heart. That is what he implied. That is just what the retreat preacher said too with Cartesian precision at the end of the weeklong retreat. This is what saddens me. This is the problem I want to write in the form of a story, in fact.
Even my wife thinks I have no heart when I don’t drink. When I drink I speak lovingly to her. When I don’t drink I’m morose, she says. She said, I must say to be linguistically correct. “When you don’t drink, you only speak about heartless Euler and Gauss,” she said. And when I drink I speak about Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal. Do they have heart? I don’t know.
Oh, I’m breaking the rule of the English lecturer. I’m going into present tense. Forgive me, I cannot stick to rules when I come to real life, I mean life outside mathematics. I never knew art had so many rules. I always think, “How wonderful it would be break free from the rules of mathematics!”
But people play mathematics in life. They call it politics. Politics is mathematics. In fact, my problem with mathematics started the day I realised that politics was mathematics. No psychiatrist could heal me of that problem. I think psychiatrists never studied any mathematics. I also wondered whether psychiatrists were people who failed in life altogether.
Now that I have completed my retreat I wonder whether priests are also people who failed in life altogether.
My retreat preacher, Reverend Father T G Joseph, folded his arms standing before the name board of the retreat centre: “Divine Preaching Mission”. Just behind him were some of the other believers who had attended the retreat with me. One of them had asked me on my way out, “Do you think Descartes who said ‘I think, therefore I exist’ and then went on to make the geometrical coordinates was a mathematician or a philosopher or a religious person?”
There was also in that crowd a man who had told me during one of the few intervals in the retreat, “I am a wife-beater. I think my wife loves those beatings. When I don’t beat her she thinks I don’t love her.” There was another man who had told me while smoking a beedi that was smuggled in, “There’s food here when you’re hungry. Food for the body. Who cares for the food for the bloody soul?”