When I started my day this morning, I didn't think that I'd come face to face with a tribe of crazed looking monkeys. Interestingly, I encountered them when I was climbing a hill leading to a temple of the Monkey God, Hanuman.
To make matters worse, one of these monkeys lunged at me and wrapped its arms around my knee. I attempted to meekly shoo the monkey away but the creature started to climb up my knee!
I'm pretty sure I was as white as a sheet despite the hot Andhra Pradesh sun giving me a nice tan.
Thankfully, our tour guide came at the monkey with a branch and proceeded to wave at it as if he was going to strike it and that's all it took for the monkey to run away.
I bleated my thanks and went about climbing the hill again. In that short span where that monkey held me hostage, I began to wonder if God was punishing me for my lack of faith and trademark irreverence at places of worship.
I have a complicated relationship with faith.
I'm not especially religious, and I haven't chosen to be either an atheist or an agnostic. When I'm going through tough times, I inevitably pray to a higher power to help me get through it, all while berating myself for acting so helpless.
I find myself fighting two sides of the argument whenever the question of faith comes up. I wish I'd pick a side and stop being so conflicted. Yet, there's an odd acrid flavourfulness to this internal struggle.
So I indulge myself.
The struggle intensifies when I accompany my family to temples. Unlike me, my parents are devout Hindus, and I have never been able to coherently explain to them my stance on how I feel about being religious.
From their point of view, I am religious and slightly less devout than I should be. They're convinced that taking me to temples often enough will help with that.
Faith used to come easily to me when I was younger; it was easy to just 'believe'. Easier still to choose a favourite deity amongst the 3 crore Gods in Hindu mythology.
My favourite God has always been Lord Ganesh, the elephant headed god who is said to be the destroyer of obstacles. I chose him more because of the elephant head. As a little girl, I loved elephants; I still do, they're such majestic animals. I even have a plush toy Ganesh at home, glorious elephant head and all.
While 13 year old me would internally recite all the Mantras mom had taught me as a child, in the hopes that I'd score above 97% in the upcoming exams, 23 year old me would crack a mental whip and tell myself to "Get back to studying, God ain't writing your exams maggot!", in Drill Sergeant Nasty's voice.
I'd still pray for good results after I'd written the exams though because Drill Sergeant made some concessions, she wasn't a complete tyrant.
I don't know exactly when I began this peculiar tentative dance between my desire to have faith and the stark inability to practice it like most normal people, but here I am.
One moment I'm asking myself how I can be so illogical as to stand before an idol made of gold and pray for world peace while the next moment I'm wishing desperately for my parents' good health without questioning how the exact same idol is supposed to grant this wish.
I'm pretty sure I want to have faith in a higher power and thus far, since my twenties I've only ever been able to achieve that when I'm pushed to the absolute brink. When praying and hoping for the best is the only thing I can possibly do (aka, when adversity strikes), I can summon up the strength to be devout and trusting of a higher power. I can't seem to summon up such an austere state of mind on a day to day basis.
I feel like this behaviour makes me a fickle person.
While my religious friends and family refill their faith tanks every day or every week or every month so that they can drive their vehicle of life smoothly, I find myself waiting till I absolutely run out of options before I have to 'refuel' on faith.
It's not efficient.
This bizarre relationship with faith is also the source of my existential anxiety.
I've tried to remedy this many times.
I try to refill my faith using the same methods that my religious friends and family use - mostly the Hindu methods because I am Hindu and it's not a very compliance-heavy religion.
I go out to temples and partake in the simple rituals at home, lighting the lamps, burning incense sticks and saying the mantras that I know. I try to feel faith but I've probably forgotten how it feels in all its glory so most days I just pretend to have made progress and move on with my life. Maybe I'm going about this the wrong way?
But I keep trying hoping that I'll stumble upon the right way sooner or later if I just keep at it.
Speaking of stumbling, we're nearly at the top of the hill, the tribe of monkeys far behind us.
I thank the deity in the temple for keeping me safe from the monkey earlier.
It's time to descend the hill.
As I walk down carefully, I am reminded of the interconnectedness of all beings. I think of the fact that I'm obviously not the first person to have set foot on this piece of land and I certainly won't be the last. Millions of people whose lives are just as complex as mine have walked down this same stone path before, so have other animals and insects. We all share this beautiful tapestry of life and maybe that's what faith is all about.
The realisation that I will go through the same things in my life as any human being before me is oddly comforting. “Maybe this is it”, I think.
I hear some rustling in the trees up ahead, must be the monkeys again. I've armed myself with a 3 foot branch just in case another monkey ambushes me somewhere.
So much for faith.
Maybe I'll get it another day.