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Last week while returning from grocery shopping I was stunned, and angry, to see an oil wick in a mud lamp burning beneath the huge banyan tree in our colony. Who had lit the lamp and why, I wondered. In all the years I have stayed here, the tree has stood tall and proud, free from the human disease of belonging to any particular faith.

Who was ruining things now, trying to rewrite new stories on to what were blank pages? From lighting innocent lamps to sinister plots of taking over a tree and surroundings in the name of faith was not very far off. It’s a game as old as can be and one sane-minded people (at least the few left) need to be wary of.

Have you heard about how some people kept a lighted oil lamp and beside it a decorative plate with coins, beneath a tree, very close to an exam center? It was done as an experiment. Soon students were stopping to bow their head and say a prayer. Some members of the general public passing by also followed suit. Before the day was done, the plate was overflowing with coins too. Or so I read.

I am not in the least surprised at the results to this experiment. That’s how easy it is. Merely put an oil lamp beneath a tree. Gullibility and belief will do the rest with no questions asked. Heads are bent in submission, palms brought together in prayer and coins dropped, to propitiate an unknown deity, a totally new player in the field about whom none of the worshipers have heard. A hint from someone about some powerful being who granted wishes is all the momentum needed to push the thing along.

In the above case though, at the end of the day, the place was cleared of lamps and coins as the whole thing had been staged just to prove a point. But what about the ‘n’ number of places where this is a deliberate first step? From a simple oil lamp it slowly grows to a huge place of worship, never mind if the whole edifice juts out on to the pedestrian walk. Never mind also if the worshipers overflow on to the road inconveniencing traffic.

I read that there is a court order which says all places of worship which have encroached on to public spaces, whichever denomination they belong to, have to unequivocally go. It’s a good thing. In fact it’s a damn good thing. But when it comes to saving the (unauthorized) places of worship, the various religious factions, who are otherwise at each other’s throats, stick together as one. The irony! So, will the court order ever come to pass? Now that’s a question whose answer I’d like to know.

© Shail Mohan 2019

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