Anonymity has been maintained for all characters in this article.
It was just another normal day at the College of Engineering, Guindy at Chennai. This was sometime between the years 1987 and 1989 and I was making my way from one building to another to attend the next class. I thought I caught the glimpse of a 100cc vehicle go past me from my back and heading for a small junction ahead. The visibility of vehicles approaching from the left or the right, at the junction, was pretty bad, because of the low lying tree branches. And then, in a flash, a jeep appeared from the road running perpendicular to the one on which the bike was on and suddenly, all I heard, was a loud crash. It was a vehicle that belonged to the University that had collided with the bike and lying there writhing and groaning in pain was my batch mate Sarvesh from the C and D batch. I was then part of the A and B batch. I was not one of those gregarious characters then and I don’t think am so different even now. I had just been passing smiles at Sarvesh till then, like I kept doing with many other classmates whom I had come to know at college.
I rushed to the spot and am not sure who else was there from our class. I don’t know what made me volunteer to join the others in carrying him and placing him into a vehicle. I accompanied him to the hospital and while he was there on the bed, the police came in and they took the statement from me. I don't think he had noticed my accompanying him to the hospital, in all the pain that he was going through. I came to understand later, that the damage was so bad that some part of his feet had to be amputated. It was a shocking happening for me. Much later, I saw him get back to college and we still kept exchanging smiles and nothing beyond that happened. College got over and decades slipped by and we got connected through Facebook, but still it was just a “Hi” and nothing beyond it. I could not make it to the grand re-union of our batch for the 25 years completion that happened in August 2015 and one evening, just after that re-union day, my friends got me into the college WhatsApp group.
I found it like a breath of fresh air, primarily because I could see a huge list of people bubbling around. I had had very little connect before with many of them, but I got connected with them quickly. Besides, it was a nice opportunity for me to share whatever I was experimenting with, be it writing, singing, painting and other pursuits. I have to mention that the group gave me lot of solace during the challenging period when Chennai was battered with heavy rains. But right on the first day, I noticed Sarvesh hog the limelight. There was a debate on the existence of God that he was leading, right on that day I joined and I came to understand that he was an atheist. I thought, that would just be a small part of the whole, while talent pursuits and other healthy discussions would form the majority. But as time slipped by, I noticed that it was not so. Yes there would be discussions on several topics, and they were really good, like those on children's education, social issues and how as a group we could address them, value of certain types of education and their relevance today and so forth, but finally the roads would all lead to the same God topic as Sarvesh would intervene and take over. Well, I thought, nothing wrong. As a group, we could discuss anything as long as we never crossed the limits.
In the same group is another classmate Mike, whom I had known much more closely. Songs had been our common interest and continues to be so even today. He too is an atheist, but there is a suave approach to his arguments. I have to agree that I have gone through most of his points that came through as part of his discussions. It is not whether I agree or disagree that matters, but his approach drew me into reading most of what he shared. Sarvesh was on the obnoxious side but as long as the discussion was based on valid data, it went good. Sarvesh also has this habit of picking up specific individuals and taunting them on their religious sentiments. He is adept at bringing out travesty and cheap humour on religion. Although he would declare that all should be careful in forwarding content that are not to his liking, he took the freedom to create or forward travesty and cheap content. He liked seeing friends wriggle with discomfort and then gave them space when he chose through his domineering moves, as part of his condescending mercy. One of my classmates Krant, a great body builder, had to leave the group because he could not stand the onslaught of Sarvesh. It is sad that a person with such a great body was not strong enough to take the mental onslaught of Sarvesh.
Next in line was me and he enjoyed taunting me with his questions on Christianity. This happened especially when I made it a point to be out of the WhatsApp group during the long Holy Lent period. That was the time Sarvesh took the freedom to add me into the group and taunt me with a few challenging questions on Christianity. There were many other friends whom I had known closely and who were really polite, but Sarvesh was quite the opposite. He was taking liberties even though we were not close at all. I began explaining to him very politely a few times but finished pretty rudely every time. It’s not that I felt good about it, but it was spontaneous. I had made several sudden exits from the group during these times of altercation and the last was before the Lent. This disturbed the rhythm in the group.
I joined back again after the Lent and the same climate continued. After the last altercation that Sarvesh and myself had, where I very successfully managed to provocate him, I realized that the group was always into helpless stress situations whenever we went head on. It was not my intention to provocate, but it was out of an involuntary move, that it always happened. Nobody likes a taste of their own medicine, and that too when we force the mouth open and serve it like nice polio drops. It was funny, as the group hesitated to tell him like how I told him. So they would message me separately and tell me how to deal with him. At one point, it was like the matador and toreros in a Spanish bullfight. But then, I thought, silence from my side would really help the group. Till today, Sarvesh has been trying his taunting methods and I have remained aloof. There is a style to his taunting that I like. I believe it happens only when there is a slight variation in a human’s hypothalamus, which again, could be because the human was born when nature went through serious anomalies :)). Well, I was just kidding. Actually I would love to have Sarvesh as a friend and I wish he soon realizes how much better he can be, while sharing the information on God and religion from his point of view.
Humour apart, I have had a few atheist friends and all of them have really been helpful in some way to me. Over the last few weeks, I have stopped reading or participating in the college WhatsApp group and that has helped me save a lot of time for the family and for my avocations. The more the unread messages in a group, the more I consider it as an achievement. I was very far from the smart world until 2014 February, when I first invested in a smart phone and joined WhatsApp. Although I am good at managing my time, still participation in WhatsApp messaging requires an amount of time. So, if am away from WhatsApp groups especially and back to my primitive days, spending more time on important things, it’s because of Sarvesh. He has helped me that way. On the other hand, Mike has been instrumental in inspiring me to take up programming again, a craft that I had abandoned almost a decade back. So that is another benefit from an atheist.
During the floods last December, my friend Moja, another atheist, was a great help. He kept me informed in advance, what the weather had in store and that really helped me take my decisions well. He gave me company through the November 23rd encounter on the roads through the rains and traffic jam that ensued, even carrying a part of my luggage. We have had many bus rides together and talked many subjects at length. My previous boss Beven, with whom I have had several rides in his car, while going back home, is a friend with whom I have shared a lot from my life and my pursuits. He is a strong atheist too and a very good man. Since my meeting him in 2008, there is not one career decision I have made, without consulting him. He has been an inspiration for many aspects at work.
On a rainy morning in November 1982, I was waiting outside the Railway Hospital mortuary at Chennai, to pay condolences to a close family on the death of an elder person. In those days, it was difficult to get a hospital assistant at the Railway Hospital, to clean and dress the body before taking it out for burial. Moti Uncle, who was known to our family since I was a child, was already into it all alone and he was cleaning the body and dressing it up. Imagine touching a dead body after it has been in a mortuary for days, leave alone cleaning it. Many other family friends who were religious bastions, just stood there witnessing this great atheist in action. When my mother had gone on her heavenly abode in 1979, our family had food served from Moti Uncle's house for a few days. He was always one of the first individuals to offer any kind of help. Moti Uncle was a great motivator too for me. I was a diffident character while into the early years at school and if I overcame that and started speaking on stage in several functions, it was purely because of his persuasion and the belief he had in me. He many times took the initiative, to position me for giving a speech at several functions we had had in our prayer meeting groups. I tremendously benefited from this association with him.
All these atheists other than Sarvesh, behaved like normal humans. They approached atheism, without taunts that made other people think, whether they were facing an animal, that should in turn be given animal treatment. Other than Sarvesh and Mike, I never saw the other atheists engage people in discussions on atheism and religion. Again Mike was good in the way he presented, with a very polite and urbane approach and he has always been a great friend. It was not like what Sarvesh did, where the same topic was taken and discussed with such a crass approach, repeatedly for months without reaching any conclusions. On the other hand, what was special about Moja, Moti Uncle and Beven was that they never got into any discussions on religion, but they just demonstrated goodness in their daily life. They just lived their life and co-existence was always what everyone looked for with them. After all, a quiet demonstration of goodness through one’s life, is the best way to inspire, rather than plain parroting.