The Death of Vishnu – Religion; rationality & reason vs the primitive force of faith

In the apartment building, the Jalal’s live on the floor above the petty warring Asranis and Pataks are perhaps the most intriguing couple, married together despite glaring differences. She a simple muslim, he a philosopher and intellectual compelled by a romantic desire to craft her into ‘a multifaceted jewel, able to hold her own with razor wit and glittering personality’ (142). This ‘Pygmalion-like’ project ultimately fails however as Mr Jalal in spite of his persistence realises that Arifa, his wife, is far from the blank slate he had once perceived, ‘she came programmed with ideas of her own, convictions he had not been able to dislodge, beliefs he might never exorcise’ (143). Mr Jalal perhaps restricted in understanding fails to appreciate the nature and extent of this ‘flaw’, religion:

‘What was it about Arifa’s faith that had such tenacity in the face of his efforts? How could he have underestimated it so disastrously? He had always been proud of his conversance with not only Islam, but all the major religions of the world. He could explain how different beliefs arose and melded with their parent philosophies, detail obscure rituals from Africa to  the Amazon practiced in the name of worship. Why, then, did he not understand the mechanism of faith? What did religion do to people, to provoke such obstinacy, such hysteria – how did it push people to the stage of torturing themselves and killing each other?
        He had always assumed it was a flaw in people, a human failing, that created this need to believe in something beyond the ordinary. Religion existed to control society, to monitor those without the capacity to think things through for themselves, to provide promises and shimmering images in the sky, so that the urges of the masses could be calmed and regulated. What, after all, did the word ‘faith’ connote, except a willing blindness to the lack of actual proof? It was only natural that Arifa, with her untended intellect, had to lean on the crutch of faith to negotiate the inscrutability of life. Whereas he did not, in fact could not, have any use for the same.
        But then an unexpected doubt arose in Mr. Jalal’s mind. What if he was being too arrogant? What if there was another dimension to faith, another way of understanding it, of experiencing it, of which he was simply not capable? What if the shotcoming lay not with Arifa’s outlook, but his own – if it was he who was limited, closed-minded? After all, wasn’t he constantly amazed at the number of very smart people who were believers – hadn’t even Einstein professed the existence of God?’ -pp.143-4

So begins Mr Jalal’s attempt, investigation and experiment into enlightenment, involving a healthy programme of renunciation, deprivation and discomfort.

I wonder what Suri’s narrative concludes regarding Mr Jalal’s journey.

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Published in: on January 8, 2010 at 8:56 am  Leave a Comment  

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