Interfaith dialogue

For me, the pow­er of faith has nev­er been described more elo­quent­ly than in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. The book is about Piscine, a 16 year old boy from Puducher­ry, India. After he is ship­wrecked, he goes through a ter­ri­ble ordeal. His love of God pulls him through:

The black­ness would stir and even­tu­al­ly go away, and God would remain, a shin­ing point of light in my heart. I would go on lov­ing.

How­ev­er, the part that I want to share today is a bit more light heart­ed and comes from the begin­ning of the book. Piscine’s par­ents are Hin­du, but he also gets acquaint­ed with Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam. He does this with such con­vic­tion that he soon becomes a prac­tic­ing Chris­t­ian, Mus­lim and Hin­du. One Sun­day after­noon, when he is walk­ing on the boule­vard with his par­ents, dis­as­ter strikes: They bump into the priest, the imam and the pan­dit and Piscine’s triple piety is dis­cov­ered. The three wise men are appalled and start a heat­ed dis­cus­sion about their reli­gions that con­tin­ues for three pages.

Father raised his hands. “Gen­tle­men, gen­tle­men, please!” he inter­ject­ed. “I would like to remind you there is free­dom of prac­tice in this coun­try.”

Three apoplec­tic faces turned to him.

Yes! Practice – sin­gu­lar!” the wise men screamed in uni­son. Three index fin­gers, like punc­tu­a­tion marks, jumped to atten­tion in the air to empha­size their point.

They were not pleased at the unin­tend­ed choral effect or the spon­ta­neous uni­ty of their ges­tures. Their fin­gers came down quick­ly, and they sighed and groaned each on his own. Father and Moth­er stared on, at a loss for words.

The pan­dit spoke first. “Mr. Patel, Piscine’s piety is admirable. In these trou­bled times it’s good to see a boy so keen on God. We all agree on that.” The imam and the priest nod­ded. “But he can’t be a Hin­du, a Chris­t­ian and a Mus­lim. It’s impos­si­ble. He must choose.”

I don’t think it’s a crime, but I sup­pose you’re right,” Father replied.

pondicherry

Gand­hi mon­u­ment in Puducher­ry. (Source: Wiki­me­dia Com­mons, Aviad2001)

The three mur­mured agree­ment and looked heav­en­ward, as did Father, whence they felt the deci­sion must come. Moth­er looked at me.
A silence fell heav­i­ly on my shoul­ders.

Hmmm, Piscine?” Moth­er nudged me. “How do you feel about the ques­tion?”

Bapu Gand­hi said, ‘All reli­gions are true.’ I just want to love God,” I blurt­ed out, and looked down, red in the face.

My embar­rass­ment was con­ta­gious. No one said any­thing. It hap­pened that we were not far from the stat­ue of Gand­hi on the esplanade. Stick in hand, an imp­ish smile on his lips, a twin­kle in his eyes, the Mahat­ma walked. I fan­cy that he heard our con­ver­sa­tion, but that he paid even greater atten­tion to my heart. Father cleared his throat and said in a half-voice, “I sup­pose that’s what we’re all try­ing to do – love God.”

I thought it very fun­ny that he should say that, he who hadn’t stepped into a tem­ple with a seri­ous intent since I had had the fac­ul­ty of mem­o­ry. But it seemed to do the trick. You can’t rep­ri­mand a boy for want­i­ng to love God. The three wise men pulled away with stiff, grudg­ing smiles on their faces.