I told Siddhartha that I wanted to bathe in the Ganga. I thought I was looking properly ironic when I said it, but still he shook his head in a sighing kind of way. The hint of a mocking smile hung on his lips like an over loud shirt – it didn’t suit him well. “You think the river will wash away your sins?” “Of course,” I replied. “You don’t understand anything if you think that.” He was disappointed in me. But my comment annoyed him on another level. He’d worked long and hard to reject such beliefs. I had no right to get involved. I had neither the genealogy, the knowledge, nor the struggle. I had simply landed, the wide-eyed ancestor of his enemies—entitled, privileged and full of dilettante ideas, poking around in nonsense.
But worst of all, it was his nonsense. It burdened his mind, but it squirmed in his DNA. That he had sent it packing some time back was neither here nor there. It was still him, not even just a part of him, but him completely, and not in spite of his rejection of it but because of it. It was his inheritance, and only he had a right to jostle with it. He was right, of course. His skepticism was deeply personal, from a life being forced to partake in religious ceremonies that seemed pointless to him. And that was only the tip of his anger.
Neither my Hindi nor his English was fit for this conversation. But the truth is that even with a shared language, we would have misunderstood one another; for him to get what I meant between the lines, and for me to properly understand his objection—which I sensed was more or less the same as my explanation. But I didn’t feel like explaining. I was already half immersed, almost up to my ears in the blurred lines between believing and not believing, an intersection where faith is not something you lean on but something you paint with—a way of relating to the world.
Of course the Ganga cannot purify my sins, I wanted to tell him, any more than the stars can heal my soul or the desert can impart the secrets of the void. But she can remind me of where I am still unclean, and of the promise that the stains that bind me to this vale of tears can be washed clean. I wanted to grab him by the shirt, and have it out right there and then. Western faith vs. Eastern skepticism, long been spoiling for a fight. Soon the water would submerge me completely, and I would no longer be able to hear any argument for or against, neither his nor my own. The modern Indian man looked down at me as the waters closed over my nose, like I was a lost cause. While the Ganga flowed on, purifying or not purifying my sins regardless.