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I was going to write about the beautiful sunrise I saw, the cats on the wall, and the birds in the sky, one of them made of shiny metal. But when I hopped over to This, That, and The Other and found that the prompt was ‘heretic’, I went: Hello! that’s me, right?

Not leaving things to chance, I asked dear old Know-It-All Google for the meaning of heretic. Dissident. Dissenter. Hmm… was I? Nonconformist… Ahh, I said stopping right there. Me, surely! Unorthodox thinker. Jackpot! Me again. Freethinker. Skeptic. Agnostic. Atheist. Me. Me. Me. Me. The rest of them meanings could go take a hike. I had what I wanted. Sunrises and cats as also birds were definitely not for today.

It’s funny how people want to know how I happened to become an atheist in my ‘old age’. Yup, that IS a question I get asked. Isn’t that the age like when even the staunch atheists go back and start worshiping God, they want to know. I don’t even know how to answer that question.

I was a halfhearted believer to start with. My questions during teen years were met with mockery not answers. Oh, so you think you can understand God by asking stupid questions? The emphasis was on stupid because that described best the one asking the question. Or so I was made to deduce. You think you are knowledgeable enough to question the Ultimate’s ways? Nope, never occurred to me. But I though I’d like to know things.

One thing about religions is that everybody wants you to simply believe, not ask inconvenient questions. An extremely difficult proposition for me. And yet, I had learnt my lesson. I went through life following the motions, sometimes even believing. Never ever question, simply have faith and everything will be fine. There was supposedly a divine plan which we, could not hope to understand. Well, if you say so. Rather convenient way of explaining away what one doesn’t understand, right? Just saying. A simple ‘I don’t know’ would have been such a breath of fresh air.

Pray at this temple for longevity of your family members. Do that pooja for their health. Fast on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays. Saturdays. What the heck, fast ALL week. No salt on some days. No rice on others. Go hungry the whole day. Don’t drink water. Stay awake one whole night. Read holy books. Sing devotional songs. Bathe early morning before doing anything. And then one day my teenage sons came into the picture.

There is no God, Amma, the progeny told me. How can they be so sure? I was told ALL my life there’s a God. No, many. Every religion has at least one of them. And here are the ‘monkeys’ telling me, their mother, that there is No God. Egad, I gave birth to them. How did they find out these things before me? But, what if… there is one? Someone’s got to be there, right? To sort of ‘direct’ things? Not in flesh, a light maybe, a power source that created the world? No? No, Amma, it’s not like that. Hmm…

I am an atheist, Amma. Me too, Amma. Both? These guys are really good, I remember thinking, they are so sure about things. They didn’t even come to me with doubts before they arrived at their conclusion. And I wasted my youth listening to my elders shoot me and my questions down, browbeat me into submission till I followed their path out of the inculcated fear. Should I applaud the sons for their firm convictions or be scared for them? No, God? Really? Could it be right after all? It never occurred to me, even once, that I should try and make them change their mind.

Thus it began, the journey that my children set me off on, of rediscovering my doubts and finding answers. No, not the kind the spiritual embark on, the ‘who am I’ question. This was the search for knowledge of a different kind, the rational kind. At first agnostic was as far as I went to describe myself. Then one fine day I had an epiphany (the irony of using the word here!). Of course, I am an atheist. What was I doing hiding behind ‘agnostic’?

The wonderful part? The group of absolutely wonderful people I have come across since, who have helped me grow, and from whom I am learning still.

© Shail Mohan 2019

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