I don’t believe in religion. There! I said it!
I was in ninth grade. There was a moral science class going on. Our regular teacher was absent hence our vice- principal Sr M was conducting the class. It was a combined class with three sections squeezed together. Imagine eighty+ fifteen year old girls packed together like sardines and you will have a fair idea of the scenario.
And now, let me describe Sr M.
She was a short, rather stout individual. I am certain she was a very devout nun, but towards students she was a tad rough. Her temper was never glued to her too securely. She was always losing it carelessly hither and thither. In addition to all this, she had the weight of the world on her capable shoulders. And she never forgot it. Talk about zealousness! Grim business.
This woman of God was the one chosen to draw the moral Lakshman Rekha for eighty+ fifteen year old girls that fateful day. She was trying to knock it into our irreverent heads how important that line was and how it was up to us- the women- to uphold morality. She minced no words and told us with astounding forthrightness how men would just let morality take a walk at the drop of a hat. She explained painstakingly what an unending, thankless struggle was before us. I think I fell asleep at that point. Or it may have been a trance. I’m not very sure.
When I came to, it was because my neighbor had dug a cruel elbow into my side. Sr M. was standing two feet away, glaring at me with undisguised loathing. For the life of me, I don’t know what brought it on. I mean, I was asleep for chrissakes!
“I’m sorry Sister?” I muttered with all the pep of a fish out of water.
“Oh! You are sorry! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
It seemed a frank, reasonable question to me. Having conscientiously absorbed the lessons my mother had instilled into me at her knee, I had never learned the art of subterfuge. A frank question, therefore, deserved an equally frank answer. I was cheered up. This was familiar territory I thought.
With womanly candor I looked Sr M in the eye and said, “No Sister.”
To this day, I have no idea why she went berserk. Her temper came unglued and she let it rip through me like a glittering steel rapier. In seconds, I was in shreds, mouth hanging open. Eye witnesses told me later that I have looked more like a beached fish than they ever thought possible.
Her annoyance mounted when she saw my blank expression. In retrospect and to be fair, I don’t blame her. It pisses one off when one is tearing another person to shreds and all that person does is to looked stupid. It is discouraging; it is insulting. I mean, what am I? A bloody vaudeville show in a shocking pink mini skirt tottering on six inch stilettos!?!
Clearly realizing that she needed to re-strategize if she was to get anything worthwhile to sink her teeth into, she switched channels midway through the juiciest part of her monologue. She fell silent.
I gulped and closed my mouth. I hoped I had stopped looking like a speared goldfish. I hoped in vain but I had no time to think of that. Armageddon had arrived sans warning.
“Do you believe in God, you hopeless child?” she bellowed, fit to blow away the roof.
Even if I had been capable of it- which I have never been- I couldn’t have lied. With all the solemnity of my mature, grown- up worldliness, I replied, “No Sister, I do not.”
It took me over three decades to know that my answer was wrong. It was wrong because I had misunderstood my own beliefs. It was an honest mistake. I should have said, “I believe in God Sister, but I don’t believe in religion.” That would have been tantamount to saying that I believe in committed love but not in marriage. And that would have been very accurate.
I doubt if it would have made a difference to her though.