train from chennai to trivandrum.
we loll along the intensely green and wet paddy fields studded with colourful sariclad women, bent double in an uncomfortable-looking position.
we see mountains, covered mystically at the top by clouds that seem to reluctantly desire to hug the mountain.
i ask myself- is this tiruvannamalai, where the saint ramana maharishi resided? it really looks like it! and shut "sri ramana maharishi?" to the workers outside.
instead the three men from the train compartment behind me come to sit next to us and start a very interesting conversation. they initiate by explaining the story of this particular saint and the precise location.
the conversation goes on. we have much in common. me, a recent student of indian religions and philosophies, them, three current students of theology.
we discuss the problems of the dalits- the untouchables- and how this religious institution of the caste system is oppressive for many thousands of people. we discuss sati, the horrible custom of widow-burning, where the woman who has lost her husband should follow him to death, and burn with him on his cremation heap, because the man is her master, her true devotion in life. we all agree that religion is the cause of many problems in indian society, and that it is not a fair and equal religion in those respects.
we disagree, however, on one strong point. to these three students, the answer is CHRISTIANITY. convertion to christianity. convert india and all will be free. convert to jesus, as he saves.
i do not think replacing one religion with another is the key; nor do i have a good answer to what the replacement should be. my lines of "free thinking", "freedom of expression, soul, opinion" sound like bleak attempts of some hippie-rose-couloured-glasses westerner travelling to india. typical, stereotypical. what IS the answer?
then i have to answer. i am put to the test. the older one of the three asks me a series of very direct questions, and i answer honestly. embarrassed at my own replies, i see how spoilt i am, how much choice i have in life, how easy my life is.
1. what do you do for a living in your country?
- i take care of old, sick and mentally ill people
2. you get paid for this or this is volunteering work?
- i get paid
3. what do you do with your money?
- i save them for myself, to buy the things i think i need for my future studies
4. how old are you?
5. and you will start your studies?
- yes, i wasn't sure before what i wanted to do for a proffession
6. where do you live in sweden?
- at my father's place
7. do you help your father with money?
8. you keep your whole pay to yourself?
9. what are you doing in india?
- trying to learn more about indian culture and the religious implications on society
10. do you come here to help the people?
- i try...ehh.... i.... try to give to the poor...a little bit..........er..
and the guy sums up. so you are 30. you live at home. you work for money but you keep all the money for yourself. you are going to start studying despite already being way into adulthood. you come to india to learn about indian culture. you don't volunteer or help in your own country. you keep your money to yourself. you do not help your parents. you do not give much back to india.
i feel like i deserve. like a pancake. flatly stuck to my expensive havaianas flipflops. what a spoilt, selfish westerner i am, deluded by my view of the world, deluded by my dislike for where i come from. why? why am i here? WHO AM I?
by the way, that question, "who am i?", was the one and only thing that the saint sri ramana maharishi ever taught his disciples to contemplate. always and forever this line. WHO. AM. I.