I just wanted to eat frozen yogurt.
Last Friday when my colleague described to me the unbelievable sounding FroYo café five minutes from our office building, I knew I needed to try it out as soon as I humanly could.
So after work we made haste for the new yogurt bar in town. As soon as I tried the cheesecake flavor I knew I had found my soulmate in that tiny pink, plastic tasting cup. We each allowed ourselves generous portions of swirly, succulent, white magic and found a nice table outside to kiss the week goodbye as we raised our paper cups to bring in the weekend with some serious amount of sugar.
Just as I had my first bite of the yogurt, two beautiful foreign women who were leaving the café walked up to our table and asked us how we were enjoying our yogurt. They asked us if it was our first time at the place, and then went on to tell us how much they loved it and had frequented the joint regularly in the US (where they were from) as well.
We could sense them linger a little longer trying to think of what to say next when my colleague, the lovely woman that she is, asked them if they would like to join us. They complied, grabbed a couple of chairs and began chatting with us.
I won’t lie, from the moment they sat down there was something in me that kept sensing a red light. However, being a preacher of humanity, one love and openness, I silently chided myself for it and told myself to enjoy the wonderful evening and the opportunity I had to meet some new faces.
They went on to ask us about where we were from, where we worked, what our company did and we politely asked them all the same questions.
Something didn’t feel right. I knew I was the same person who always going on about believing in the inherent goodness of people but I could not seem to shake off the feeling that something just didn’t feel right.
The conversation went on. They asked us what we thought about the area we were in, which other areas we hung out in and if we lived close by. They said that they had been in India from two months and were thoroughly enjoying their stay. Everyone, they said, was really nice and kind.
My mind began racing with ideas of what they could possibly want of us. No, I told myself, they are just making conversation, it was a normal thing to do. Then why did it feel anything but?
We complained about the traffic and the senseless drivers who won’t allow you to cross the street because we as Indians love to bicker. They laughed.
But everyone here was so nice, they reiterated. Then the woman who sat beside me, who was the more garrulous one among the two, stated that it was beautiful how we had mosques and churches and temples all together in one place. How did we feel about religion and spirituality being from here? they asked.
As much as I restrain myself from talking about religion and personal beliefs, I’ve been raised to be fearless while speaking about it. So I jumped right in and told them how I felt about it. I wouldn’t call myself religious by any means, but I wasn’t opposed to religion as long as it didn’t create a rift between people. My colleague shared a similar viewpoint. They told us a little about their beliefs, they were religious and had found themselves in a God through wonderful ways.
We moved on and began talking about something else when one of the women cut into the conversation, apologizing and asking to return to what we had just spoken about.
“What is your relation with God?” she asked, looking right into my eye.
I told her what my relation with God was like. I said to her that I didn’t find the need to place what I believe in a box and put a label on it but that I definitely believed in a higher power and sometimes, that power even went by a name. And sometimes, it was even a God’s name.
We moved on yet again as the other woman cut in, asking me “Do you feel like you have found peace?”
“Yes,” I said, without the shadow of a doubt. I did my fair share of fanaticism and I did time wandering loose in hell, but then I did find peace, and I did find faith.
They proceeded to tell us a little more about their journey and invited us to an open gathering they often host with a few friends where they read a little from the scriptures and share thoughts about it. They then asked us if they could quickly pray with us before they left. We agreed.
Such were the events that occurred which led four young women to bow their heads on an unusually warm April evening in Bangalore city and pray around a table at a yogurt bar as the store mascot hopped around them merrily, the life size swirl that he was.
I kept running over the evening in my mind since the time they stood up and walked away.
They were right. India IS a beautiful country filled with mosques and churches and temples. And as an Indian I have had the privilege to know individuals of different faiths, become friends with them, best friends with them, date them.
At the tender age of twelve, my best friend and I have told each other about our religions, that were so alike but so different. And it didn’t bother me. If whatever she believed in made her the person she was, then I was about that.
At seventeen, I was honored when another close friend of mine handed me his Holy Book and asked me to read it so that I could understand more of his truth, and him. It wasn’t the religion I practiced back then but it didn’t trouble me. He would still be the only guy who could hold his ground against me in a game of hot hands, and I looked forward to knowing what his secret was.
At twenty-one, when one of my oldest friends took me to her place of worship and asked me to whisper a wish into her God’s ear, I was thrilled! She told me that He had never failed her or anyone she knew until then and that my wish would certainly come true.
So why was it that when these two women came up to us and spoke about their beliefs, I felt offended?
After a lot of thought I realized that it wasn’t because of what they said to us but the very guise they came under. You don’t need to compliment my scarf or cleverly maneuver a conversation to sell your God to me because guess what? I already believe in Him. He was the first thing I learnt to believe in when I learnt what faith meant.
And maybe a lot of what I believe is different today but I still thought that the prayer you said was moving and pure, because it was a testament of your faith.
Faith is the fuel that this world runs on, it is the fuel that I run on. It may be in a God, or in a higher power, or as my friend once decided to try, it may be in a stone.
I have known faith in a God to move mountains, and I have known faith in a higher power to change my life. I believe that we are magnificent creations and the power of faith which we have within us is what unites us.
So please, the next time you decide to walk up to two unassuming girls at a yogurt shop or a restaurant or on a bus, remember what you said about my country. It is beautiful that we are all one, and we need nothing but our own faith to be one.