I was about seventeen. It was a family wedding and I was incharge of the gifts. Amidst the months of planning, weeks of scheduling, days of preparing and tons of instructions, we still managed to have a lot of fun and family time! But it was exhausting too.
It was around 1 pm. The main ceremony was over. It had been a very early morning muhurtham. Not that it mattered, for anyways I hadn’t slept a wink. Nor had I the night before when I had helped with the arrangements (or at least I would like to think I was helping though it was purely having fun with my cousins). Just one more session to go – the evening reception.
We were just stepping out of the dining hall, literally stuffed with food, when I saw him. In the garb of a priest, with a tray of prasadam and a couple of garlands, he was walking purposefully towards us. The bride and the groom were beyond exhausted and were simply looking to escape. I stopped them from leaving, pointing out to the priest with the prasadam . He started chanting even when he was a few feet away, came closer and handed a garland to each of the newly weds asking them to place it on their spouse, wrapped them both together in a ponnaadai, and handed over the tray of prasadam. The couple promptly fell at his feet to take his blessings before taking the tray.
“Vango Vango” – I heard my dad’s voice inviting the priest. I looked around and found a few elders ready to take over. My job was done. I took the tray from the couple to retire them for the morning. Almost as an after thought, as the pleasantries continued with the elders, the priest took out a small pink colour gift wrapped box and handed it over to the couple. I was almost near the car so I handed over the tray to my driver and ran back to pick up the little gift. The elders were already taking him inside for a meal and the couple really did not have the energy for any more pleasantries. With a hug and a promise to see them again early in the evening to help with the reception, I took the pink box and ‘dumped’ it in the back seat of my car. All I wanted was a little shut eye.
It was evening too soon and despite my best efforts I was running late. When I reached the mandap, everyone was already busy as a bee organising things. I rushed to see if the bride or groom wanted anything and suddenly had several of my relatives call me from all around. Well, what now? Was I that late? I checked my watch and walked towards the closest group. My athai (aunt) asked, “Your dad says you were with him when Thambu came this afternoon. Is that right?”
Just so you know I have (even today) an address list titled ‘Unknown relatives’. I have been told they are my family but I have never met them / interacted with them / known anything about them. ‘Thambu’ must be part of that group, I thought. “Who is Thambu?” I asked distractedly. My athai went on with an elaborate explanation which lead me to understand that they were talking about the priest. So I said “Yeah I was there when a priest brought the prasadam. But I have no clue if he is from the Drive-in-Pullaiyar-Kovil or if his name is Thambu. I have never met him before”. Most of my family have lived in Adayar and there is a Ganesha temple we all visit which is in the middle of the road. Yes middle! You can literally drive around it in pradakshanam. Hence the name Drive-in-Ganesha temple.
Had I missed something important? Curious, I asked my athai why we were trying to know more about a priest when surely there must be a million things that needed our attention before people arrived for the reception. By now a crowd of relatives had gathered around me, and the conversation for whatever reason had become a whisper, almost conspiratorial. Everybody was pitching in. I was the last to arrive on the scene so to speak. I gathered that Thambu was the head priest of the Drive-in Ganesha temple and he was away in his village on a family matter. As he knew he would be missing this wedding, he had arranged to give the prasadam to my uncle who had gone to the temple in the afternoon to pick it up. When he had brought it to the reception hall, my dad informed him that the priest had himself brought the prasadam in the afternoon. I had been named witness. My uncle telephoned Thambu in his village and got confirmation that he was indeed traveling. But my dad insisted – it had been Thambu who had come to the mandap that afternoon! So who had really come?
The clock was ticking and so much had to be done. But the whispers were floating – was it really Thambu or was there another explanation? Had the divine decided to shower his choicest blessing on the newly weds by appearing in person with prasadam? My testimony was heard a hundred times in those few hours by anyone who was curious. I maintained that I had been there and did indeed remember the priest’s face, but I did not know a Thambu to confirm or reject his presence. To be honest, after a point it was more irritating than fun. I mean – so what? The more and more the story got around, the more convinced I was that my dad must have mistaken the identity of the priest.
Well, the objective reality confirmed that Thambu was not in Chennai and had not visited the mandap. However, the subjective perception of the family were a million hues – from the pragmatic and practical, to felling blessed and special, to the absolutely superstitious and ridiculous – Oh they were all going around! In my head the objective information had been assimilated, processed and confirmed not to warrant any more of my time. Filing away the incident as another of my ‘crazy-family-good-times’ I went about with the reception duties I had been assigned.
A few hours into the reception, someone wanted something from the car and I was fetching it for them when suddenly from the back seat a small pink gift wrapped box fell into my hands. The words literally danced out of the card – ‘With blessings, Ganesh’. I froze! Time stood still. The little pink gift wrapped box glowed with a million smiles right into my eyes! Tears gathered in my eyes even as my face blossomed into a incomprehensible smile. I was literally feeling His presence all around me…
Oh there most certainly is a logical explanation. My dad must have been mistaken. It wasn’t Thambu who came. It had to have been another priest coincidentally named Ganesh. Objective reality cannot be ignored. But neither can the subjective! It is not about whether God came in human form, dressed as a priest and gave his blessings to the newly weds. It is about that moment of epiphany when I saw the words ‘With blessings, Ganesh’ that revealed a moment of absolute connect for me to feel the divine presence; the awe I felt for the events that lead to such a moment; the sheer precision with which everything flowed to present to me practically gift wrapped in pink an inexplicable moment of feeling His presence!
That is it! Period. A gift from the universe to me – a moment complete in itself. The problem comes if you try to make that subjective experience an objective science!
Knowing about the Big Bang or understanding a concept of evolution should not deprive one of the awe of creation. Equally true, to be drowned in a subjective hallucination of miraculous irrelevance without any objective understanding is as bad as being addicted to drugs. Miracle is not merely something you did not predict or do not understand. Miracle is that it happens irrespective of whether you want it or not, understand it or not – but manages to give you a peek into the magnificent!
For many a century we have committed the mistake of making God only a subjective presence without taking any effort to understand the objective truth. As Stephen Hawking’s writes in his book A brief history of time – “A well-known scientist once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!” Indeed many remain with the turtles all their life!
On the other hand the reverse is also true! Now that many have a greater understanding of the cosmos – the Big Bang, the black holes, the time warps and wormholes – they negate or belittle the reality of our tiny-weeny-itsy-bitsy presence in this humungous ever expanding universe that actually gives each one of us a unique perception of life – one awe inspiring peek!
One cannot do without the other, the objective and subjective realities are part of the same absolute. But our problem is, many of us start at the subjective side and try to fit in the objective world – a square peg in a round hole. In truth, to be successful, it ought to be the other way round – start with the objective but expand to realise it subjectively. It is time to stop searching for a God ensconced within our subjective perceptions of reality, unwilling to see from another’s shoes. But equally true, it is time to release God from a need to validate Himself every time with Objective universal applicability, for experiencing Him is the most personal, private experience you can ever have.
It is not really about whether God took the time to dress up as a priest to wish the newly weds in human form. Nor is it about proving the stupidity of believing that God would come in person to wish you ‘Happy wedding day!’ It is about experiencing the magic of existence in those moments of connect to ask in wonder and awe, ‘God, is that really you!’
Written by Gita Krishna Raj | Published in infinithoughts in January 2016