On how I landed up in Nirmukta: An anecdote of my journey into Atheism.
“But dear, ‘love’ is just a word!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah! Abso- bloody- lutely! ‘love’ is just a word, ‘dear’ is just a word, ‘honey’ is just a word”, “But, Cibi on your deathbed you’re gonna feel really ‘happy’ realizing all life you lived was just a pile of words!”
“But, listen dear…”, I yelled to see Coke spilled over the dashboard as she had already left, slamming the door!
The materialistic me: It didn’t fetch me a lifetime to realize I needed a change. I had to cleanse myself off this attitude. And I did.
“Well, Can I just, err… borrow your pen? I have to fill in this form”
“I’d love to let you borrow. But it’s my Parker, and I don’t let others use mine.” I protested.
“Uhm… It’s not going to be long, I’ll get it back in a minute or two. ”
“Sorry, I don’t share mine with anyone.” I admonished.
The possessive me: It didn’t fetch me a lifetime to realize I needed a change. I had to cleanse myself off this attitude. And I did.

“Theeje, eeje, waaje, vijual… Hahhaha! His accent is ridiculous. Isn’t it?”, I mocked.
“Hey, come on! You can’t be so aggressive! Not everyone has the opportunity to learn a language perfectly.”
“Oofhoo! You know what, you look like an elf with that expression.”, I giggled.
The rude me: It didn’t fetch me a lifetime to realize I needed a change. I had to cleanse myself off this attitude. And I did.

“Look dad, I’m not going to school anymore if you don’t buy me an ipod.”
“Don’t be so steadfast dear. You don’t need an ipod now! You’re too occupied with your lessons to have one. ”
“I’m not listening to any of your explanations. I’m asking you to buy me one, not your opinion about buying me one.” I marched past.
The extravagantly stubborn me: It didn’t fetch me a lifetime to realize I needed a change. I had to cleanse myself off this attitude. And I did.
I’d always considered revising the veracity I’d held for any idea or attitude. And immediately had put an end card to those which no longer deserved a place under my ‘description’ banner. But whenever it came to religion, I never dared to question anything. Nor was I taught to question religion. I was taught by all the elders in my family (parents included) to never question my religion. What I found really amusing here was that I was allowed to mock at other religions and their practices (although not publicly) but never was I ever allowed to question or mock at my religion. I didn’t know if I needed a change. I didn’t know if I had to cleanse myself off this attitude. And the most pathetic part was that I didn’t even know if I could think about a change, with religion and theism. I was always preached to look at atheists as devils’ incarnations on the earth. Since they all said gods aren’t real.

I didn’t know I could think it like, “Does god exist?” As I sit down to write this, I’m able to remember the preface to a book of Richard Dawkins, if not the whole preface, at least these very words: “I didn’t know I could.”

I was born and brought up in a southern district of Tamil Nadu, India. My rural upbringing had a few good things for me indeed. I’d call them gifts: My parents were teachers, both. My mother specialized in zoology while my father specialized in literature. Until my high school I’d thought I didn’t acquire enough genes from my mother to get me interested in science/ biology. I was so fully interested in literature and linguistics until then. Like the dream of every parent, who is a teacher (especially in southern Tamil Nadu), the dream of my parents was to make me a medical doctor, which I hardly managed to fulfill. As a matter of fact, my rural upbringing had a few bad things for me too: I was bought a computer when I was in my sixth class. I was not aware of the www, although I’d read it in my textbook and barfed it on my answer sheet. My parents, obviously were not able to use a computer, since they were born and brought up a few decades back, when they supposedly had read ‘computers’ in their textbooks and barfed it on their answer sheets. And I had the privilege of being the very first student in my class to own a computer. But that didn’t leave me satisfied. I was worried I’m too late, I was not able to pacify me with a “better late than never” thing. It always happened with me, I ironically was different from typical Indian students who were fed up listening to comparisons from their parents. I used to make my own comparisons. I didn’t know if it was some kind of a complex or psychiatric ailment, but I did. And since it had always helped me get higher, it didn’t bother me.
“Dad, you know what, the kids of my age in the US are now using the internet to get their home works done. And I’m yet to know the internet!”
“Dear, be happy with what you’ve got. You’re the only kid in your whole class of sixty to have a computer”
“But dad, I’m not able to think of it that way. I feel I’m lagging behind.”
My father had always been, is and will be my hero. In teaching me how to live a good life, in teaching me patience, in teaching me discipline, in teaching me literature and everything. But the only thing, I guess he didn’t let me know was, “Am I allowed to question my religion?”. Although my mother had always ordered me never to question a religion. And my mother was an ultra- orthodox theist despite teaching evolution to students. In a village where hardly 1% (an approximate value and not statistical) of its population managed to acquire “good” education, I was complaining why I was not as fluent as the kids of the US in English. Although that made me understand how people in these remote village are denied “good” education, I was not ready to give up the only life I’d got by making myself content with the knowledge I’d had. And their condition was not something new to me. I’d been witnessing similar stuff for years right from my childhood.
With a population that is in a deep seated need to believe, with me in the middle of it, I never had any clue if I’d become an atheist one day. And one day it happened. I had updated my ‘religious views’ in Facebook to ‘Agnostic Atheist’. It didn’t take Carl Sagan, it didn’t take Richard Dawkins, it didn’t take Stephen Hawking, it didn’t take Sam Harris, for me to question the belief of god and the credibility of religions: Since until the first time I questioned, I was in a deep seated belief, ‘Atheism must be avoided in all possible forms.’ and eventually, ‘any idea proposed by whoever a genius can be considered except atheism.’ But it took a remarkable guy to set this milestone in the journey of my life. He was there whenever I wanted things to be answered in an easy way or in a way which I could easily comprehend. He was there for me to answer even my silliest questions on religion and god. Without this guy, I’d never have thought of reading, “A Brief History Of Time” or “The God Delusion”. Without him, I’d never have wanted to know the universe, I’d never have wanted to know quantum physics. He little cared about the derision I made on him, Ajita Kamal, and other fellow Nirmuktaites since they were all atheists, but gave answers to my questions that deserved answers. He answered me with excellent syllogisms or with credible theories of science or with logic: whichever vividly answered the question. He is no celebrity nor is he a close friend of mine, and I didn’t even know if he really existed until Bala Bhaskar confirmed lately at CFT 20, that Girish Shankar really exists and is definitely not just a Facebook profile. (As everyone knows there are a pretty good number of people on Facebook who don’t exist in real life. And you get even dubious, when the person doesn’t upload his photograph as his profile picture). Of course, he’s the one who inspired me to understand what Science really meant.
Like many other Indian school kids, especially those from rural India, I used to study Science as a subject which could help make my score card brighter. Girish was indeed the first person to let me know what science tastes like. I’m greatly thankful for Girish to have let me know that there is such an excellent dish like science. The first supper of science I had with him is the beginning of my romance with science. Only after I tasted science for the first time, I could realize (altering a small extract from an Oscar Wilde’s work), “Science is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite and leaves me with an excess want. What more can one want?”
And today I’m really happy I’d been freed from the shackles that held me back. I’m happy to realize that I can now question anything. I am happy to see the vast expanse waiting for us to explore itself.
The highest of all these pleasures is that, thanks to Girish and Facebook, I came to know there are people in real life who love to know things rather than just believe in fairy tales and myths; People who want the credibility of everything considered; People with eager young minds; People who loved science; People who moved one step forward from the rest of the crowd; People who really wanted to acquire knowledge rather than have an attractive scorecard. The Facebook group- ‘Indian atheists- Debate Corner’ was the first rational thinkers’ and science lovers’ group I got myself into and wished so badly if such a group could exist in real life, if I could form such a group in real life. Putting this query of mine forward (Since I’m now, free to question) I was led to Nirmukta and its’ regional groups. ‘Chennai Freethinkers’ made me happy as I’d shifted myself to Chennai lately. Nirmukta Science is although the first one on that list where I couldn’t wait to get myself into. At last, almost after a month in the Facebook group- ‘Chennai Freethinkers’I was notified the monthly meet. I’m sure you’re able to envisage my reaction of excitation as I was notified a physical meeting! Although it was my vacation, I cancelled all my plans so that I could push myself to stay in Chennai until the 25th of November. I realized it was a bad idea not to have made it clear on how to reach the meeting venue: Malles Manotaa. However, I had science for my help! Yeah, I had the voice interactive maps in my cell phone to help me find my way. (Please notice that I’m so new to Chennai, and I’m definitely not overdoing it with satellite maps since I’d had exasperating experiences asking people for directions.) I was on time to the meeting. As time moved on, more members moved in and it was a highly informative open- discussion session. With people from different professions I was dumbstruck as they all exchanged ideas and facts on almost various fields, not particularly with science but also on economics, religion, manuscripts and stuff. Along with me, there were four new members by the day, three of whom were students and one- a research scientist. I must confess, it was the first time in my life, I was content. “You’ve got many more years of acquiring knowledge, you’re only a bachelors’ degree student now”, I said to myself as I listened to the members speaking. Yeah, honestly, I never thought such people on knowledge live on the face of earth. I mean, what are they, dude! They seemed to know something of most things, every one of them. The session was so informative that I decided never to miss any of the upcoming meetings at least as long as I stay in Chennai.

I belong somewhere in real life. Yeah, I said it; I said it because I can, because I do.

Happy smile
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