It was the middle of a day in the middle of a week and I was sweeping the floor in the lounge of the hotel Supraja in the wonderful city of Coimbatore, where I was paid to do simple cleaning jobs for a few hundred rupees each month. As a fourteen year old kid, it seemed a great way to make some extra money and I was very much grateful to my uncle Ramani, for having given me a job in the hotel that he co-owned, despite it being illegal for kids of my age to be employed.
My mother had one warning every morning, before she sent me to work
“Remember Jiddu, your uncle is taking great risk in making you work in his hotel. He gave you the job only because your father is not responsible enough to stick with us and run our family efficiently and we are running low on money, every month. Your sister has just completed her twelfth standard and we need to start saving some money for her marriage soon-“
Before she could complete with what she wanted to say, I, at my eager best, jumped up with another question.
“Why can’t Ramani mama, provide us with the money we need? He is your brother, right? And he does often cite that Appa left to some other city, without caring for us, leaving our family to be Mama’s responsibility. He says that he will do everything he can for us, in the midst of our relatives”
“Only in the midst of relatives” I heard her murmur. She always murmured when she did not want me to know or hear something, but I always did. Didn’t really understand why she did that. Then she raised her voice “Getting you a job is all he could do. We must not depend on others. Besides, wouldn’t you be proud if it’s your money that gets Bharathi akka married?” asked my mother, with wide, excited eyes.
“Of course I will...Anything for akka...But I hear that other people in the hotel earn more money than I do. I thought being one of the owner’s nephew, I could be paid more” asked I.
“That’s not going to happen with Ramani...that darn miser” murmured mother again. “Just do your job and God will take care of anything. If we really remain honest and do good things to the people around us, without worrying if they are good to us or not, God will certainly take care of us. So don’t worry if the people around you get paid more than you. At the end of it all, only people who do good things reach heaven. People who do bad things will burn in hell. Therefore, be good...”
I have tried to remain good all my life, thanks to my mother’s advice or should I say warning. I have heard from my grandmother about how awful hell can be and she too, like my mother, always warned me to be good or that I will end up in hell, where I would have to suffer for all eternity. She had told me that there were demons there that fried you in oil, made you walk on fire, eat bugs and they also beat you up with large clubs and maces. I certainly did not want to end up there and was very much concerned about not making any mistakes that can get me stuck there.
Contrary to hell was heaven. I asked different people as to what heaven really was and different people had different ideas. My mother told me that heaven was filled with good people, who took care of each other and showered each other with love. Ramani Mama told me that heaven was a place full of money, expensive clothes, a gorgeous palace and an expensive car. My cousin Shiva, who was nineteen years old told me that heaven was full of beautiful women, who treated you like royalties and did whatever you wanted them to do. For some strange reason he giggled after saying this and I did not really understand why. So all these different descriptions of heaven from different people made one thing clear, it was the place that everyone wanted to be and the most pleasurable place ever. I certainly wanted to go there after my term on Earth.
My mother, during our difficult times, like when we did not have enough food to eat, or a place to stay during the floods and storms, used to say that we have to bear everything patiently and calmly, not losing our senses. She told me and Bharathi akka to think that all our sufferings will come to an end if we remained good and we’ll definitely go to paradise, if we faced all our problems, without making any sins. She promised that all our trials will soon end and we will have a wonderful place to be for all eternity. That sounded like good news, but she always cried after saying this. I still don’t understand that. Maybe she just said that to make us feel good? Or perhaps she knew that we won’t get anything good as promised at the end of it all? I did have a lot of questions.
While mother spoke of getting all the good things only after death, that too if we only prevented ourselves from going in any wrong path, there were many others who spoke of good things happening to people, within their life time, if they remained pure and noble here on earth.
My father’s childhood friend, Mr. Narayanan, often visited us to make sure that me, my sister and my mother were doing well, despite our father leaving us. For some reason he was very much sorry for our state and seemed like he wanted to do something for us, for the betrayal of his friend. He said that he was feeling guilty for what our father had done and Mr. Narayanan always wanted to do something to help us. But he was not a rich man himself and he had a family to feed on his own. He did give a few hundred rupees and some fruits and biscuits, every time he came to see us. But those weren’t the only things that he provided us with. He tried to fill in the shoes of our father, by doing his best to keep our hopes alive during our tough period, tried to inspire us and he wanted to always guide us in the right path.
I once asked him about heaven and hell and he said that those were two places that many felt that everyone went to, based on their deeds on earth. Mr. Narayanan was a more rational man and he did not want to fill my head with beliefs of something that wasn’t exactly proven.
“Look Jiddu, I don’t know if there is a heaven or hell. I can only say that life becomes heavenly when you are surrounded by good people and hellish when surrounded by bad people. Would you be happier in the midst of people, who don’t cheat you, who care for you and whom you can trust whole heartedly or in the midst of people who betray you, who scold you, who beat you up and ignore you completely?”
“Obviously with the ones who are good to me...But aren’t there all sorts of people in our life? I mean nobody can be termed absolutely good or absolutely bad...”
“That is true, nobody is absolutely good and absolutely bad all the time. But we should make efforts to remain as good as much as we can. Even if we do certain things that might affect the lives of the people around us, we must realise our mistake, apologise to the ones who got hurt by us and try to help them overcome the trouble that our action has caused. Realising one’s mistake and apologising for it is of utmost importance, Jiddu...”
“Does that mean if we do bad things, we will be forgiven if we just confess our mistakes and apologise? My English teacher Mariam in school, used to say that God will forgive everyone if they repented for their sins”
“Well...that is true, but that does not mean you can do something knowing that it is wrong and then apologise. We have to try as much as we can to not hurt others. If we do something, without our knowledge, at first, then if we realise our mistakes and correct ourselves, then perhaps you can be forgiven. Different religions tell different things, but I would ask you to not trust anything blindly. Try to question everything and try to find answers for yourself. For your question about heaven or hell, I can give you a simple story...”
”Imagine a guy working in an office. He has a superior to answer to and he has a few subordinates whom he should administer well. Let’s say he has been given a particular work that he has to complete using the people working under him. If he is a miserable leader, he would yell at his subordinates, create panic in them, make them work under pressure all the time, scare them of getting them fired if they did not do their job well and so on. What would happen then? All the people working under him will naturally be in constant fear and tension all the time, they would mess up the work given to them, because of the pressure caused by the man they are working under and the quality of the work they do will certainly be poor. The miserable man would not be satisfied with the job and he would try to make his men rework over and over again, till the deadline ends. The job wouldn’t have been completed well even then and the man would have to submit the poorly made work to his superior as the deadline has ended. The poor work would make the superior unhappy and he will express his anger on the man, who in turn will show more hatred towards his subordinates. This does not stop here. The pressures of work will carry on to their house.”
“The subordinates will show their displeasure towards their wives, husbands and children, so will the man who was the reason behind everything in the first place. He will yell at his wife, parents and children, even when small acts of theirs annoy him in the simplest of manner. He will be thinking about how his work ended up being awful and he will focus his entire frustration and anger on his family. His children, having gotten scolded by their father, will be sad and disappointed. Their sadness will also influence the children who usually play with them. The wife of the man will show her disappointment from her husband’s behaviour on the other people she encounters, like the vegetable vendor who might demand a higher price than normal on that day, and this vendor having endured the woman’s rage, might go on to show his irritation on to his own family-“
“Yes, yes, I understand Narayanan uncle...” I had interrupted understanding where he was going with his story and a little annoyed myself seeing how lengthy Mr. Narayanan was with his story. He had this habit of drifting from what he wanted to say and my sister often used to refer to him as the one with the boring lectures. I found that quite insulting and a bit offensive. I liked the man and I always stood up for him. My sister had several other things to say about him as well, his long nose and blue eyes being another two things that she often teased about.
“You see, this is an endless cycle. So many people will be unhappy and upset because of the anger, hatred and displeasure of one man. So that single bad man has turned other people miserable as well and life for all these people becomes hellish. Whereas if at least there had been one person who had managed to be on their good side, when coming across a person with a bad mood, then that person could have changed everything in an instance. If the man’s father or his wife or his children, had managed to show calmness, patience and tolerance towards the man and the others who they had encountered, then the spread of anger, hatred and frustration from one person to another could have been prevented. The chain could have been broken. If the wife of the man had been strong enough to not let her husband’s negative feelings get to her and if she had been patient towards the other people she had come across, without spreading her husband’s frustration on to others, then she would not have been responsible for more people becoming miserable”
“If the man’s superior had been tolerant enough with his subordinates’ mistakes and focused on correcting them in a calm manner, instead of showing his anger onto everyone below him, the office too could have been prevented from becoming a hell. If the man, who had pressured his subordinates into making mistakes, had been more mature and wise in his dealing with the people under him, none of the others would have suffered. Without pressure, the people in the lower posts in the office hierarchy, would have done their job efficiently, the superior would have been content and might have even appreciated everyone, thereby making everyone happy and peaceful...Now that’s what I would call heaven. So see Jiddu, if we do remain good, we can create heaven right around us and if we are bad, we can be responsible for the establishment of hell. Maybe all the religions of the world meant this through their scriptures, but people might have misunderstood them and taken things too literal” said the long nosed Mr. Narayanan with a smile.
He did seem like he made great sense, but I was also frightened with the prospect of not getting a place in heaven, after my death. If there was no real heaven and hell and all those religious scriptures were really taken too literally, then where do we go after we died? This brought me a whole lot of scary thoughts and worries. Perhaps I should have focused more on what Mr. Narayanan brilliantly put forward to me through his lecture that was as long as his nose, rather than worrying about the literal heaven and hell.
So why am I telling about Heaven and Hell right now? There seems to be no purpose to this discussion right now, doesn’t it? Well I do have a reason. I have this great obsession about heaven and hell and I’ve always wanted to know everything about it.
As I was saying earlier, it was the middle of a day in the middle of a week and I was sweeping the lounge of the hotel I was working in. People usually came by in hundreds towards the weekends and a few dozens, towards the night on normal days. Noon on weekdays was perhaps the most deserted time period in the hotel. Hotel Supraja did provide lodging as well as food, but we were known more for our “high quality service” for people who wanted to stay, rather than our food. In fact, our food was awful. I myself ate the food that my mother usually sent with me from home. People ate here only if there was no other option. So even the usual office going folks who flooded the other hotels towards the lunch hours, were missing in our hotel. One of the owners (our hotel was owned by four men, including my uncle Ramani) Mr. Natrajan was the only one who spent most of his time in the hotel. The others had other businesses to deal with and they only appeared during weekends and on other special days, especially on that day every month, when they were to split the income generated by the hotel... which wasn’t that much.
Ramani mama had other works to attend to as well (A water plant, a small textile shop and a cycle service shop) and he was certainly earning a lot of money, though he always complained he never had enough to take care of his own family, let alone ours. No wonder my mother murmured a lot.
Mr. Natarajan was reading his newspaper in the reception, while there was only a handful of people coming and staying at the hotel at that time. Many of the other cleaners and bell boys had left to have their lunch in other hotels nearby, ignoring the food made by our own cook. Mr. Natarajan had often condemned them to not go to other places to eat, which might tarnish the reputation of our hotel, but they did not listen. They often lied to our owner of going out to other places, regarding our own hotel related businesses and Mr. Natarajan too came to understand that they cannot be stopped. So he started to pretend that he really believed what they were saying. He did bring his own lunch as well, but he did not eat it in the reception, where he usually spent much of his time in. He took his own food to the part of the hotel, which was to be the place where people coming in for food, were to be served, but this place was often deserted. He sat there and ate the food he had brought from home, often pretending that it was truly delicious and his own hotel had produced such fine food, hoping that a few passersby would think that the food from our hotel was really wonderful.
That day, he seemed to have already finished his lunch and was immersed in one of his newspapers. He did not speak that much to me and I often wondered if Ramani Mama had told him that I was his nephew. For some strange reason, I had the feeling Ramani Mama wouldn’t have told him, worrying about his own image in front of his partner. Mother always murmured about Ramani Mama often feeling embarrassed about his association with people like us, even though my mother was his own sister, me and my sister his own nephew and niece. Whether he told anyone in the hotel or not, Mr. Natarajan never spoke to me much about anything. He only gave orders now and again and did not ask me about anything. I had seen him often having conversations with other workers in the hotel, about issues other than that involving work, but never to me.
That day, there were just the two of us in the lounge and if there hadn’t been the newspaper there, I wondered if Mr. Natarajan would have had any other choice but to speak to me. It wasn’t as if I was desperate for him to speak to me, but I was kind of confused as to why he wasn’t giving me much importance... the kind of importance the other workers received. But then a thought occurred to me. Perhaps he wasn’t comfortable with a young kid like me working under him. Yes that must be it...
Mr. Natarajan was the kind of man who was very much afraid of the law and tried to remain as disciplined as possible, not because of his respect for the law, but his unwillingness to get into any trouble unnecessarily. I knew that Ramani mama and Mr. Natarajan had a heated discussion about having me working there. I knew that Mr. Natarajan did not want me there because of my age and that he preferred workers above eighteen years, so that he did not get into any trouble from the police or the children’s welfare association. But Ramani mama convinced him somehow and got me the job. I think he did not say that I was his nephew and hence he was trying to get me a job. He probably would have stated the poor condition of our family and tried to convince his partners to accept me out of pity and sympathy. Whatever it was I got the job, paid lesser than others and not talked enough by one of the bosses.
That day however, he had a single thing to say to me and that brought a big change to my life...
“You boy...” Mr. Natarajan called for me, with the telephone receiver in his hand, having just received a call in the large red telephone at the reception. “Are there any bell boys nearby?” he asked eyeing from above his counter.
I looked around in the nearby rooms and reported that there were none.
“Do a job for me, will you? I am not ordering you...just a small request...this is not a job really... just a help...” said the old man, with the bald head and thin glasses. Mr. Natarajan seemed a bit hesitant in giving me a work to do and he always was like that, when he wanted me to do something for him. He would raise his voice every time, when he was asking me to do something and he said every time that he was just seeking help from me and not ordering me. I think it was just to make others think that he wasn’t tormenting me, but was just requesting, so that nobody accused him of tormenting a little boy with so much work.
“Go to room 108 and arrange the bed there, as well as clean up any garbage that might have been left by people who had been there before. We are expecting two guests to arrive there in a few minutes time. Can you do that?”
“I sure can, sir...” I took my cleaning brush, mop and a pail of water and headed to the room one hundred and eight. It was in the third floor of the hotel and there were in total one fifty rooms in the entire building. They weren’t too big, neither too small. They were not of the type seen in those larger five or seven star hotels in other parts of the city. Supraja was an ordinary hotel for middle income people. We rarely had richer guests, who came here having no other option, with other hotels nearby filling up on some instances.
I went to the room, opened the door with the key that I had taken from the lobby and started with the cleaning act. The room wasn’t too messy, except for a few cobwebs in one far corner of the room, which seemed to have been ignored by the previous visitors and a few boxes, biscuit and chocolate wrappers under the cot. But the bathroom was a bit messy with a lot of soap stains on the floor and the lavatory, a bit smelly. So I got on with the job of making the bathroom floor and the lavatory much cleaner than before, the way it was meant to be and it took a bit longer than I expected. I also did not have any food that morning, as mother had left home early to pay the electricity bill, leaving the job of preparing meal to my sister, who was a bit slow in cooking, as she was just starting to learn. I did not have the patience to wait and I hurried to the hotel, promising to eat her food towards the noon. I was supposed to have gone home for having my lunch, after sweeping the lounge, but with no bell boy or cleaners available nearby, Mr. Natarajan sent me to make the room one hundred eight, a lot more inhabitable. With no food for more than twelve hours including the previous night and with all the hard work of cleaning the bathroom, I got a bit dizzy and fell unconscious there.
I opened my eyes some time later, though I did not know how long it had been since I had come into the bathroom. My first concern was if Mr. Natarajan was going to think that I was not doing my job properly. I felt a searing pain in my head, thankfully there wasn’t any blood to be found. But I did find a large lump on my fore heard, below my hair and I started rubbing it, in the hopes of pushing the lump back into the skin, only to suffer more in pain. I heard voices coming from beyond the bathroom door, within which I was lying down. The door wasn’t locked, but it was closed tight, with only a thin opening visible towards the edge. I slowly lifted myself up a little and I felt the dizziness once again twirling me around. I knelt down back against the floor and slowly dragged myself towards the door, in the hopes of seeking the help of the men on the other side, in the room.
The voices grew louder as I neared the wall and I opened the door slightly, to widen the narrow slit between the door and its frame. I saw two figures seated in the centre of the room, on a couple of chairs and staring at something in between them. They were both men, one lighter skinned, with a thin beard and a bald head, the other dark skinned, white bearded and with a majestic structure, who my eyes seemed to be more attracted to. He had this amazing blue eyes, white beard that came down to his neck, curly white hair that was lush, vertical lines of wrinkles on the skin of his forehead, which seemed like an odd religious mark that many in my city used to wear, but really wasn’t. He had an amazing voice when he spoke and I certainly was mesmerised by the complete look of him.
The other lighter skinned bald man seemed more sinister and his ears had an odd shape, as if pointed towards the tip, though when focused upon closely, weren’t really pointed but only seemed so from the distance. His thin beard made him look handsome, but not in a good way. I really did not, till that day, think that there was a bad way of seeming handsome. His voice was more seductive and I could sense cunningness in the tone with which he spoke and in his dark, brown eyes, which also seemed to have a red tinge to it. The light skinned man seemed a lot older and more mature than the younger bald man, with the latter being more muscular and fitter. The two men clearly did not seem like they were from this part of the world. The kind of clothes they wore was different from what I’ve been usually exposed to.
“Must be from some far away nation” I whispered to myself.
Not having been exposed too much to the lands outside my own country, or outside my own state in fact, I could not even describe the attire they were wearing, but they were certainly different from anything I had ever seen. For some reason I could not even state which language they were speaking, but I did understand every word of it...so they must have spoken in Tamil, as I do not know any other language...Well I did know a bit of English since I was taught about it at school, before my mother decided to not send me there anymore, but I cannot say I was really fluent in it. But I understood what the two gentlemen spoke and so I did not worry too much. The dizziness and the aching bump on my head, made everything around me a little hazy and confusing.
I did understand one thing somewhat clearly though. The two men were the guests who Mr. Natarajan had been expecting to arrive there.
‘But how come they did not notice me? The first thing most of the guests who came to the hotel did was to open the bathroom door and check the toilet and the showers. Didn’t these two gentlemen do the same? If they had, they would have found me lying on the floor and tried to alert Mr. Natarajan. Why did they not do that?’ I asked myself.
“So Big Gee, still busy with the good old job, are you?” I heard the bald man, asking the older, more divine looking gentleman.
‘Gee? As in Ji? They must be from the north of India’ I came to the conclusion, based on what I heard.
“Yesss...atan...pretty much so...” said the darker skinned man.
‘What did he call the other guy? Satan? Or was it ‘yes’ followed by Atan? Or is his name S. Atan? But do people really use initials every time they have a normal conversation?’ a lot of questions flooded by mind, but I decided that it was rather a petty thing to be dwelled upon and I came to the conclusion it must be S.Atan...’Weird name’
Both the men were still not seeing each other in the eye, but were staring at something else between them and I could not clearly see what it was, as the bald man’s body was obstructing my view of the object before him. But when he slightly changed his position in the chair, I was able to get a glimpse of some glowing ball like structure in front of him. It was bright and it seemed to...to...hover over the ground.
‘My God, what is that thing? How...How in the world is it flying? Wait a minute, is that really the world? The earth? A globe? The sort found in the principal’s office in my old school? But this thing is flying above the ground? How is it hovering? Is it some advanced machine? And there seems to be tiny objects moving over the earth like structure...What is that thing?’ My vision was still hazy and nothing made clear sense to me. I was even more puzzled than before.
I can see no more of that object, as Mr. S. Atan’s body once again obstructed my view of the hovering object.
“Aren’t you getting a little bored with the same kind of things happening over and over again?” asked Mr. S.Atan.
“Not really...you do make everything much more complicated and exciting with your interference, don’t you?” smiled Big Ji.
“I do, don’t I...It’s all for you to achieve what you really want to...” smiled back the bald man.
“And what do you think that is?”
“You know what I mean...you are the Big G for crying out loud...Don’t pretend you don’t know that I know what you want...”
‘What are these two men talking about? What is really happening here? I don’t understand a thing’ I was still kneeling down in the bathroom floor, watching the two men and the mysterious hovering ball in front of them, through the slit, between the door and the frame, eavesdropping on their big conversation.
“Oh really? Remind me of what I want, would you...” asked Big Ji still with a smile.
“I know your entire affair with the earth is to choose the right candidates...men and women who are worthy of a spot in your domain, ‘The Heaven’”
‘Heaven? Is that the name of some hotel?’ I thought to myself.
“Right you are...and also to get the right people to accompany you, in your lair, ‘The Hell’” said Big Ji back.
‘’Heaven and Hell’...Are they talking about the real heaven and hell? Or is that another hotel?’ Nothing still made any sense to me.
“True...but I preferred a place in your heaven, but you instead banished me to hell” said the bald man, his tone changing a little, showing great displeasure.
“Well I had given you a place, very close to me for a long time, but you instead chose to dethrone me and take complete control over the heaven and all the world together. I am not going to let that happen, am I?” Big Ji, showed no anger or displeasure, but just continued with his smiling.
“And so you chose to have these pathetic mortals by your side, instead of me? They are nothing compared to me. You know what I am capable of” said S.Atan.
‘Wait a minute...Is Mr. S.Atan, really ‘The Satan’? And Big Ji...is actually Big G, as in ‘God’?’ I was speechless and I was beginning to sweat profusely. This little revelation did not do too much good to my already poor, unstable, physical condition.
“I know what you are truly capable of...and hence I banished you to hell...” said Big G calmly.
The bald man lifted one of his hands in the air and closed his fist as if he was about to strike the man before him. There was a little shiver in his body and I was able to sense great anger in him. But soon Satan dropped his hand and heaved a big sigh, trying to calm himself down.
“Never mind...hell isn’t so bad a place to be...at least for me” Satan slowly began to laugh, in a very evil manner, the sort the villains did in movies...but only several thousand times, more scary. I was afraid that I was going to piss my pants, but then again I was on a wet bathroom floor, my pants and shirt already wet, with me having fainted there, a few moments back.
“Not only that, but you also do take great pleasure in meddling with the affairs of humans on Earth and I haven’t done much to keep you off, have I? So that is one more thing that is in your favour” said God.
“I know why you don’t restrict my presence in earth too much...You like what I do there, don’t you?” said Satan, once again letting out a short haunting laugh.
‘What is he talking about? God actually allows Satan to be in earth? What am I saying? Are these people really God and Satan? What is happening here?’ I could still not believe what I was witnessing. It’s just that it was all too much for me to handle, but there wasn’t much I could do, than wait there and listen more to the conversation between the two figures beyond the door. Not that I wanted to stay there, but for some reason I wasn’t able to get up and leave. It was as if I was watching a movie, happening right in front of me.
“What do you mean by that?” asked God.
“You always like to pretend that you do not know about anything, don’t you? I mean...you are omnipresent and omniscient...You just want me to say everything with my own mouth, don’t you? Very well...You always trusted your favourite creations, the humans, more than you trusted even your angels...until I showed you how untrustworthy humans can be. That really made you need me, did it not?” asked Satan.
I was still blank, unable to comprehend anything the two beings before me were talking about. But I decided to just stay there and listen to them nonetheless.
“I made you understand that humans cannot be trusted when I appeared as a snake before Adam and Eve...They were tempted by me and they failed...”
“Exactly...you tempted them and they failed...They wouldn’t have if you hadn’t tried to ruin their blissful life...”
“But I showed you that they were not flawless...You want someone to be loyal to you, then they have to be loyal to you no matter what happens around them...And I proved to you that mankind cannot be that way... through the very first humans you ever created...” said Satan proudly.
“But you failed the second time when you tried to do something similar...What about Job? You said that he will fail if he was deprived of everything good in life, but he did not and I proved to you that humans can be loyal to me even when they face a great number of misfortunes...” reminded God to Satan.
‘Are they talking about all those biblical stories that Madam Mariam used to tell us, in between our classes? I think I remember some of them...’ I tried to recollect everything that I had heard in the past.
“True...but that was a lone incident...We did try to see if humans can really be loyal to you, despite all odds, on several instances and tales of all our experiments have come in several religious texts all across the world over different time periods...Only our names change in each of those religions, but not the truth” said Satan.
“Truth according to me is that humans can be trusted and truth for you is that they can’t be...So which truth can I assume?” asked God, patiently.
“I still can’t believe that humans can be truly good...They can be led to do great sins with great ease and such weaklings do not even deserve a place as beautiful as earth. And you want to have many of them on Heaven, a place that was denied to me and several of my fellow angels” once again the bald being’s expression turned serious.
“You brought that upon yourself...If you had not tried to oust me, you still could have been in heaven-“
“I am not concerned about me being sent away from heaven...but I cannot accept humans getting a place there” interrupted Satan, angrily.
“Not all humans get there...you are there just to make sure of that”
“I want no humans there in heaven...Not even one of them. Those filthy, disloyal, pathetic, disgusting creatures...” I was sure that I saw smoke coming out of the bald creature’s ears when he said that. There was genuine anger in his tone and his face was red with rage. His eyes were really terrifying. “They do not deserve something that I am denied...”
“So you will continue to prove them to be worst than you? But you have had your failures in the past...Not every man or woman fall for your temptations” said God, not concerned or feared one bit, about the devil before him. Why would he be afraid, he is ‘The God’ for crying out loud...
“Of course I’ve had failures and that is because of you... because of what you have done to those humans...what you have revealed to them...”
“What do you mean by that?” asked God.
“Once again...you and your pretensions annoy me a lot...You’ve made the humans realise that there is a place called Hell where they will suffer for all eternity if they sinned during their time on earth-“
I heard my mother’s voice when the bald devil spoke those exact words that my mother had said to me.
“-you’ve made them realise that I will be on earth tempting them in various ways and that they should not lose faith in you...”
“And your problem is?” God asked, looking mischievously at Satan.
“My problem is that you’ve warned the humans before hand through all those religious scriptures and even through moral advises among non-religious people. Our names may vary, the narration of our tale may vary, but the truth is the same in every religion in this world. Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism...whatever the religion might be and in whichever part that religion might be practised... the truth about us remains the same...”
God seemed like he was truly pretending that he knew nothing, as he eyed innocently towards the monster in front of him.
“All humans know that hurting others physically, mentally or emotionally is wrong and that they will suffer for their evil deeds... That does not make our game fair...It just makes my work even harder than before” said Satan, angrily.
“Harder for you? Really? I thought you were capable of making even the noblest and greatest of men to falter...you take pride in it...”
“I do...I do take pride in it...but it’s just...just totally unfair...” said the fair men with clenched teeth.
‘Satan speaking of being treated unfair...now that’s...different’ I thought still hiding behind the door, listening in to their conversation.
“Do you not think that the humans will force themselves to be good, if they knew that there was someone out there to punish them if they did anything wrong? Do you not ever wonder if the humans will remain as good as they are now, if they came to know that there was no heaven as a reward for them if they remained pure and corruption-less? And even worse is the belief that good things happen to good people. I’ve observed mankind for centuries...Many make mistakes knowing that their actions will affect the people around them somehow, but they do not stop themselves. But once they commit the crime, they try to convince themselves that they were wrong and they then pretend to confess...Or they convince themselves mentally that they are really regretful, just because they fear that they would be sent to hell and not to heaven after their time ends, if they did not repent. In some cases, many people try to compensate for their sins, by paying money to temple and church administrations or feeding the poor...Let me ask you something...Would you really forgive someone who wants to just make up for his sin and not truly regret his action? Would you rather see someone who feeds the poor out of genuine concern for them or would you have people who do it just to fool the people around them and God Himself...that is you...”
“I can sense where you are going with this...but you know me...I would rather let you explain it in more detail” said God, once again with a pleasant smile.
“Humans won’t be as good as they are, if they are made to believe that there is no God to look after them, to judge them and to punish them if they committed any crimes or sins. They won’t be as good if they come to think that there is no after life and their term on earth is the entire term of their existence. I dare you to create such thoughts in humans and see how they behave...” challenged Satan.
I was somewhat able to understand what the devil was trying to say and I had very similar doubts, when I heard about heaven and hell, from all those people I came to talk with, about them.
“There are people who do not believe in me or in the concepts of heaven or hell...but many of those so called ‘Atheists’ still remain good...What do you have to say for that?” asked God.
“Well some of these men might not believe in God, heaven, Satan or hell, but they might have been thought that good things in life could only happen to people who do good things to others. What do you call that? Karma...Yes, you do good, you get good, you do bad, bad things happen to you...”
“If they do not believe in us, do you think they would believe in Karma? But I can understand that some of them might still be morally taught to remain good...”
“So do you agree that it is not a right way to judge people? Do you think even these people will remain good if they come to know that good things won’t happen to them if they just did good things to others. Make them realise that bad things might happen to them if they did or did not help others...then see how they will change...I know they will change...” said Satan, seeming excited now, having made his point. “Why do you even have these atheists in the world? I’ve wanted to ask you that for a long time”
“Whether someone believes in me or not, good people will remain good people. Atheists sometime have more sanity than people who believe me. Religions were created in this world to bring order and unity among humans, to give them some moral ground and make them come together in the celebration of festivals and rituals. But many changed these rules in religions according to their own personal agenda and corrupted all the religions of the world. What was created to unite people, started splitting them up and most awful of deeds began to be made by humans citing religion and me, in my various names and forms. The corruptions and flaws in religions made many people hate them and they also started hating me, as religion and God have been too closely associated. But I still believe humans can change their ways and there is an inherent good in them...”
“Nonsense...I believe something on the contrary. No matter how good they may seem, there is an inherent evil in them. People piss on the walls and at street ends in many parts of the world. Leave a picture of Jesus or Ganesha, or any of your other forms on the walls, they move away from there. These are your so called believers. They do not know that pissing on the walls or spitting on the road are not good acts on their own and they can lead to the spread of diseases, but they only stop doing it when they are threatened by your image. Fear of God takes precendence over common sense. This is just a simple act I chose for citing human hypocrisy. They speak of leading a moral life before other people, but receive bribes behind their backs and then use that same money to build temples for you, as a way of cajoling you. Humans speak of being good, pretend to be good, but their actions are nowhere near good. And you think they are worthy of a place in heaven. I am far better than any of them. I chose to oppose you face to face and I tried to take your position without working behind your back. But these humans, they are just fooling you...”
“So what do you think we should do? I can understand what you are trying to tell me, but you know that I am not going to give up on the humans and I know you are not going to get convinced that they are going to be good. So what do you want done?” asked God.
“Make the playing field more even. You spoke about atheists...you claimed that there are so many good people among them, who despite not believing in you, still try to remain, honest, noble and kind. I do not completely trust them, but I will accept their existence just for the sake of our argument. And then there are non believers who do all sorts of evil acts claiming that there is no God to stop them. And there are your believers and followers who try to remain good or pretend to remain good, despite doing evil acts in secrecy and convincing themselves to be regretful of them, just for getting a spot in heaven and not getting stuck in hell. Then there are others who might or might not believe in heaven or hell, but believe that if they do good things to others, good things will happen to them. These are the overall classification of people we have on earth. Let us play a little game. Make the world believe less in you. Create more people who will believe that there is no God to judge them. Make everyone think that there is no heaven and there is no hell. Their time on earth is their only opportunity to exist. Whatever they enjoy there, is the only enjoyment they are going to have and no matter how much they suffer, they are not going to have a paradise at the end of their suffering. Make them think that no matter how many good things they do to others, bad things will happen to them anyway. Then see what happens...”
“What do you think will happen?” asked God, with a serious look on his face.
“People will call all religious scriptures as fairy tales and they would call God, an imaginary being. They would not worship you, they would not think that they have someone watching over them and they would have no one to lean on to during their tough time. They would not patiently wait anymore saying “What has God allotted to you, will come to you eventually”. Many humans have remained patient through that belief, but when they are made to believe that there is no God, they would not remain patient anymore. They will think that life is very short and they have to get what they want and if they don’t try, they would never get them. And they would not hesitate to go to any limits. Without heaven or hell, they have nothing to look forward to and they will no longer try to remain good and care for one another. And with coming to find bad things happening to them despite doing good things to others, they would no longer care to do fine things to one another. Betrayal, treachery, violence, lack of concern for one another, rape, molestation, harassment, thievery, ruthless attitude will all be prevalent all over the world. Greediness and Selfishness will take more importance than love and affection. And that will prove to you that humans aren’t really what they try to portray themselves to be” said Satan with a smile.
“I still believe there will be people then who will genuinely love one another, help each other in need, look after their friends, family and fellow humans, be generous, show kindness and not give up on the ones who have gone on the wrong path. Forgiveness and acceptance of one another despite all their flaws will still be seen. I firmly believe that as they have a part of me in them” said God with a smile.
“Then prove it...Create the world that I described and let’s see who wins among us. But I am quite sure that there will be more men in my hell than in your heaven. Then perhaps there will be enough space for me to move back to heaven” smiled the devil back.
“I will have only worthy people in heaven, beside me...It’s not about the quantity, its about the quality of the human soul. Even if there is one pure soul to accompany me in heaven, I will be happy...”
Mr. Satan stared angrily at God, sensing His indirect denial of the devil in heaven.
“And I can prove there can’t be even one human, worthy enough to be there in heaven...” said Satan, standing up and leaning towards God. “Do you accept the challenge?”
God sat there calmly and eyed the being before him. It wasn’t the first time that such challenges were made between the two beings and God slowly stood up from his chair as well.
“You have my acceptance...From this day forth, the world will slowly change. People will start losing faith me in each day. Their association of me with various religions of the world will be the reason for their loss of faith in me. The flaws of religion will be highlighted more and that flaws would only make people believe that religion on the whole is just full of lies. When religion becomes a lie, a majority of the people will think that I don’t exist. With me not existing for them, there will be no heaven or hell either. And as you said, good and bad things will happen to all people all the time, but good things happening to bad people and bad things happening to good people will get more attention. The corrupted world leaders, who have done all sorts of evil deeds, will continue to win and prosper. Youngsters will go seeking sinful pleasures with my existence being disproved. Science, the way of understanding my creations will only prove the philosophical stories about the creation and functioning of the world in religion to be false. They would not understand that Science is just an explanation of how I’ve really made everything function and instead they would think that I don’t exist at all...For them, God will be the image of heroic beings, having weapons, showering rays from finger tips, flying in the air and making things happen with the snap of a finger. They would even go on to believe other beings that appear in their comic books, television and novels with similar characteristics and powers, but not in the real me with proper real powers that can be explained by science and not seen as magic...”
I stood there hearing everything that God was uttering and it brought great chill upon me.
“Humans would only go on to think that they need a happy life and not care of what happened after their death. And to get this happy life, they would start believing they can do anything...Getting a car, a house and expensive jewellery would mean more than getting a place in heaven. Doing things that would benefit them in their earth life would mean more than doing the morally right things...Survival of the fittest will be the motto of many...” said God and Satan began to laugh standing in front of Him.
“So do you agree, that the humans will fail as you just described?” asked Satan, seeming satisfied that he had won.
“Wait...I did not say that all humans will be of this manner...The collective psyche of mankind will be such. They would at least begin to think that way, but people who are genuinely good, will try to change this view of the world. They will try to stand up against the changing world and they will not worry about the material gains, but they will fight to establish a morally right world...”
“And you will help them succeed?” asked Satan, once again sensing something to be unfair.
“No, they will suffer the most...people who stand up against the immoral wave of human society, will suffer more than others who accept them...That’s not because I hate them, but because I want to see how much they could stand up and keep fighting...Lesser souls will fall easily, stronger, more nobler souls will continue the fight...and these stronger ones will take a place in heaven and they will be the ones to prove you wrong. And it’s in your hands to make them fail...the more challenges you give them, the more chances they will fail, but the ones who don’t, come to my heaven. And the failures of these people will only make others think that it is not necessary that people who do good things in life, will be protected from the bad...bad things might happen to good people as well, but it is how they handle them that matters...I don’t care if people believe in me or not, but it is how they conduct themselves that matter. An atheist who does morally good things is on any day more admirable for me than a believer doing bad things to fellow humans. I won’t interfere with your affairs anymore and I will give you more freedom to do what you want on earth...It is in your hands to collect as many members for your hell or prevent as many people from getting into the heaven, the entry of which was denied to you”
“Yes...yes I like what I hear” giggled Satan, rubbing his hands...
I did not like what I heard and my heart started beating faster. I was beginning to sweat greatly, due to the lack of proper ventilation in the bathroom or due to what I came to know from the big conversation in front of me. Whatever it was, I did not feel good and my dizziness was making my vision more blurry than before. I knelt there unable to do anything and I tried to get myself up, by holding on to the door handle. I slowly lifted up myself, but my head hurt real badly. My vision was getting hazier than before and I began to slip down. I tried to hold on to the door handle, but my hand slammed against the door, making a big noise, getting the attention of the people on the other side.
I fell to the floor and remained there helplessly. The last thing I remembered seeing was four pair of eyes staring at me from between the slit in the door. There were no emotions on the two faces that were staring at me and before I can think much, everything went dark.
When I woke up I was staring at the ceiling of my own house and four heads appeared over me one by one, my mother, Bharathi Akka, Ramani Mama and one of my fellow workers Mani, from the hotel (who was nineteen years old).
“Jiddu, how are you feeling now son? What happened to you?” mother began to cry, as she saw me waking up. She got close to me, hugged me and kissed on my forehead.
“He must have slipped in the bathroom floor and fell down. Mr. Natarajan and the boy here had found him in one of the room’s bathroom floor” said my uncle Ramani, his stall structure seeming miles away from me, pointing towards my fellow worker from the hotel.
“Yes, I had come to the hotel, after having my lunch outside and Mr. Natarajan said that he had sent Jiddu to clean one of the rooms for the guests he was expecting and it had been a while since he saw Jiddu. So he sent me to find him and when I got to room hundred and eight, I found the room open and the bathroom door closed partially. And there he was on the damp floor, his clothes wet at places and his eyes closed. He had this big bump on his head and he wasn’t moving. I tried to wake him up, but he did not. I went out, informed Mr. Natarajan and he came to the room along with some of our other fellow servants and bell boys. He informed Mr. Ramani right away over the phone and we had thought of taking him to the hospital, but Mr. Ramani had told us to bring him home here” said Mani.
“Yes, hospitals these days try to take away every single penny their patients have, over simple issues. They would ask us to take unnecessary tests for a small bump on the head and will want Jiddu to stay in the hospital for days together, thousands of rupees for a single day of his stay...It was all unnecessary, so I asked him to bring Jiddu here and used our family doctor to just check him. It only cost us around a hundred and fifty rupees and the doctor announced that there was nothing to worry about, but he had just collapsed due to hunger and exhaustion...” said Ramani mama, trying to justify his stinginess and lack of willingness to spend money on me. He also stared angrily at Mani, who had ignorantly spilled everything out, including Ramani’s mama’s decision to bring me home.
“He did not wait long enough to eat my food and he did not come home for lunch either. What can I do?” my sister was teary eyed and I was able to understand that she was feeling miserable for me.
“It...Its alright akka...I am fine...Mani, did the guests in the room leave, when you went to room hundred and eight?” I asked the boy who had brought me home. I suddenly remembered what I had seen in the room that day and I wanted to know more about God and Satan there.
“What guests? Nobody came there...Seems Mr. Natarajan later received a call that they won’t be arriving till later in the evening...” said Mani the servant.
“What? What are you saying...what about the fair bald man and the dark skinned older gentleman?” I asked, not knowing if I should refer to them as Satan and God.
“There were no guests till I found you and brought you here. Maybe somebody would have come by now...”
“Then what about all the things I saw? The two men and the giant glowing globe, that hovered over the ground? The two men talking about heaven and hell, so on...”
“What are you talking about, son? Are you sure you are alright?” asked mother, concerned seeing me mumble about things that she did not understand.
“Nobody was there in that room, except you, Jiddu...you must have dreamt about it all...Just delusional from the bump on the head I guess” said Ramani mama...”but don’t make a big fuss over that...it happens...no need to go to any hospital for that...” added Ramani mama right away, worrying if my mother would want me taken to the hospital right away and that he would have to pay for it.
“Are you sure about that, Ramani? He doesn’t look too good...” asked my mother.
“He will be fine...Just let him rest for a couple days. I will inform Natarajan about his absence in the hotel. Let him rest and be there once he is all hail and healthy” said Ramani Mama and started walking out. “Bharathi, do get him the medicine he needs. Here is another hundred rupees, get what is required using this money. The doctor will always give medicines for three to five days...but a couple days’ worth medicine is enough. Doctors and pharmacists have these deals to give us expensive medicines for lots of dosages. Also do enquire the pharmacist if there is a less expensive equivalent for all the medicines written-“
Ramani mama walked away from the room, speaking to my sister and Mani left with him as well. Mother was sitting beside me, still crying holding my hands...My thoughts were still over the speech that I overheard.
‘Was that all a dream? Was I just imagining everything? Am I really delusional? Do people see such things if they really faint? I’ve never fainted before, so I do not know...But it was so real...Big G and S.Atan...God and Satan...whatever... heaven and hell, the changes in the world...the challenge between the two beings...’
Then I saw my mother weeping beside me and the poor condition of the house we were living in. I heard Ramani mama’s advises regarding money and medicine towards my sister and I also came to think that I might lose two day’s worth of wages if I did not go to work...then I came to think of heaven, hell, God and Satan once again... Was it all real? How could it not be real? It seemed so real and life like...Real or not...I did come to learn one thing that day...Man should be good in a natural and genuine manner, not because he wants to stay away from hell and go to heaven...nor should he pretend to do good things to please the people around him and make them think greatly of him... He should not do good things hoping for good things to happen to him...And he definitely should not stop doing good things even if bad things happen to him and if the people whom he helped turned against him. Only such people deserved to go to a place like heaven...if there was truly a place like that. Humans must however not remain without progress in life, thinking that God will give us everything, if we remained patient. We have to do what we have to do and then wait for the result to happen, based on God’s will. No use waiting for God to do something, without doing what we are to do in the first place.
‘I do not know if God is real or not...but for some people the knowledge that there is someone out there to look after them, does great things to them and gives them great comfort and confidence. But for some others, too much dependence on God, prevents them from going places and doing things that they are supposed to do. Sometimes men commit a lot of crimes using God’s name and sometimes there needs to be a check on these men...This is where atheists come in...We need as many atheists as we have believers...When mankind starts to lose its way, in the name of God and religion, atheists have to step in and explain something about rationality. But when people go away from the right path, without belief in God, believers should come to their aid and show them that their path is wrong, but they are not lost. There will always be someone looking out for them.
There are good things and bad things that can come out of both belief and lack of belief in God and religion. Our focus should however be on doing the right things, that is to care, love and show genuine concern for fellow beings and make sure that our actions do not affect anyone in a negative manner. Let me not worry if there is a God or not, if there is a heaven or hell, let me genuinely care for everyone around me and do good, positive things to everyone without really worrying if they are doing good things to me,’ I said to myself that day. That small incident in room one hundred and eight, put an end to my long term obsession with the concepts of heaven and hell. I did not care for those things anymore.
I rested for two days and then got to work on the third. Mr. Natarajan was kind to me and he did not cut any wages for the two days that I had not gone to work. He was a bit too worried for me...or perhaps worried that if he would get into any trouble if someone from the authority came to find out that an underage worker, in his hotel, had fainted and had to be carried away, right under Mr. Natarajan’s watch, just a couple days back. He asked me to not tell about me fainting to anyone outside the hotel and I accepted to not speak about it. I was glad that he did not cut my wages and I was happy that he was speaking to me much more than before.
“Take care of your health, son and remember, don’t tell anyone about what happened that day” he said every time he saw me, in the next few days. And that was more than enough for me to be happy, that I was not completely ignored by one of my bosses.
He even went on to lessen my work for a week, after my little fainting incident. He did not let me do any hard work and offered me free coffee every noon for seven consecutive days. He only allowed me to answer the phone, take down notes in his register, when he was away from the reception and asked me lead visitors towards their rooms, carrying light luggages of theirs. It was on one such work day, when none of my owners were at the reception, that I was handed down the responsibility of maintaining the register at the reception. We had a trio of visitors who had come to stay in our hotel and I had to fill the register with their details. I noted down their names, wrote the time and day of their arrival and their addresses, before handing them their keys and sent them with one of our bell boys.
I spent some time on the register and observed the details of so many people, who had visited us and stayed with us, having been written down over the past few months. I had never spent too much time at the reception before and had never gone through the register till then. It was then I thought to do something. I went back a couple pages and tried to see the names of the guests who had visited and who were to visit the day when I had fainted. I scrolled through the list of names and when I reached the bottom of the page, my heart stopped. It had the names
“Big G and Mr. S. Atan”
Time of arrival & departure, address and contact details completely incomprehensible...