Like many other adolescents, at that impressionable age, I too had turned an atheist, or at least, an agnostic. Natural laws and rational means to understand them were all we had. But, over the years, I have become more and more of a believer, though my sceptical temperament hasn’t quite changed. I do pray both ritually and unconsciously. I pray to connect, to be in harmony, to gather my scattered mind. I also pray to express thanks, to ask for help, to confess my inadequacy. Before eating, I like to pray to consecrate the food.
In my growing years, like many of my friends, I wore my scepticism like a badge of honour. On the sun-bathed lawns of St. Stephen’s College, we embraced rebellion, and as we got ready for our march to modernity, our freshly acquired liberalism had no space for petty denominations of identity — caste, region, religion. We belonged to a larger truth, a bigger India. The irony never struck us at the time — in a college Christian by birth, we believed that we needed to be pagan to be progressive. It was only many years later, when journalism turned my simple ideas on their head, that I realised that agnostics like myself could only end up on the losing side of the battle for secularism. We had ended up misreading the signposts — in our firm walk away from religion, we had somehow lost our way, and ended up pretty far from culture as well, in a country where the two are inextricably woven together.
I turned for inspiration to the third goal of classical Indian life, to dharma or right conduct, rather than the transcendent goal of moksha. Dharma was secular while moksha was religious. Over time I have discovered, however, that a secular life based on the noble end of dharma cannot substitute the mesmerising power of moksha.