By the time my niece was two and a half years old, we had bonded quite well. So, I decided to take her out on a walk one day. My niece – an adorable tiny creature walking alongside me and clutching onto my two fingers. As we walked, she looked at the world with her beaming face. Probably there was even a tinier person sitting inside her brain and recording all that she was seeing. On the other hand, I thought of how much this place had changed since my childhood. I had not been to this part of the town lately, the not-so-wide streets and the old house where I grew up.
With the town overflowing with population and creating chaos with its blaring vehicles & busy stalls, where do you take the two-year old? The only place that I could think of was a temple of Hanuman nearby. It was the place that I used to visit when I was around her age. The temple was not really a popular one despite being very old. Probably that was the reason why I enjoyed visiting it back in the days. It was located in one of the side-lanes, little far from the main street. One had to walk down the kachha road to reach there. So I walked, marched, and matched my footsteps with those little feet. On our way over there, I showed her things that she might find amusing – a puppy, a kitten, a tall tree and a man with a long beard. When we finally entered the temple through its black-coloured gates, I imagined how my family back home would react to this, knowing only too well my relationship (?) with God.
I almost felt awkward. The way you feel when you stumble upon your ex at an event or a ceremony and immediately resort to an explanation. “I’m just here for the event, you know. What’s up, God! How have you been?” But today was not the time to introduce atheism to my niece. As we moved inside the temple, I could see that she was already well versed with the dos and don’t s of the religious place. Where to take off your footwear, how to fold hands in front of the deity, etc. As we sat down in front of the deity, she looked up and asked me, “Why don’t you fold your hands?” It had to be replied with a smile and me asking her, “I don’t know how to. You show me.” “Like this. See. Like this,” she gestured.
Afterwards, I showed her around the temple. I suddenly remembered that one of my schoolmates used to stay inside the temple premises as he happened to be the son of a priest working there. I looked up with a false hope as if he would still be around. His house was shut and wore a deserted look. Meanwhile, my niece was running around a tree in circles and pausing intermittently as if to check if I’m noticing her new achievement or not. It was reminiscent of the time when I use to run around this place with my sister. I loved chasing kittens and yes, also looking at this giant tree standing right in the center. My sister and I would try to guess its age. We could never reach consensus on the number but we did agree that it must have been older than any of our grandparents. I stood next to the tree and touched its bark. It was still standing strong. The wrinkles on its branches did give away its age but rather gracefully, like strands of grey hair shining on an old man’s beard. It was still holding a promise to touch the sky with its leaves on top. As a child, I always related it with a popular story of a young man who climbs the tree to enter the world of dreams.
I touched the tree with my palm and wondered if it still remembers me. I had learned in school that trees are living beings just like us and I had always wondered since then whether they too have memory. I wondered if the tree silently acknowledged its old friend. I would like to think that it did. Maybe that’s the kind of solace every believer seeks. Hoping for a positive outcome and negating the doubts in their head about whether God really did hear the prayer. Maybe, it is all about hope in the end. Maybe that’s why we don’t tell children that magic isn’t real, that Santa is simply their mom or dad tucking gifts under their pillow or that some things just cannot be afforded. Maybe God is another name for hope, and adults are his children who need to sleep well at night. They need not always know everything in its naked reality.