CREDOS : Faith in frames — III

Vibhuti Patel

Religions impact each other in India. There are crossover influences-Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-Christian. I have a picture of three Hindu women at a Sufi shrine praying alongside Muslim women — I saw that at many, many places. I’ve seen devotees tying threads [a Hindu practice] in temples, mosques, in churches. It’s a practice that has become common to all major Indian religions.

Were you aware of that kinship when you started?

I became aware of it as I travelled. There’s a church in South India which draws as many Hindus as Christians. At Mt Mary in Mumbai, I saw wax models of computers and planes — Christians have adopted the Hindu custom of offering God a model of whatever they pray for. There’s a picture of Christians who shave their heads — offering their hair as a sacrifice — a Hindu practice adopted by Christians. In Sufi shrines, I saw Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims praying side by side, as they have for generations. People who convert carry their practices with them. The practices are then internalised in the adopted religion. In the introduction to your book, Pico Iyer says that novelist Salman Rushdie celebrates India’s pluralism, and his fellow writer Rohinton Mistry celebrates its compassion and humanity. Faith is first of all about being a good human being, it’s about humanism. That’s what Rushdie and Mistry share. I was struck by two dramatic pictures: a basket of silvery fish topped with a single bright red chilli and, on the facing page, a potato seller’s weighing scale, holding a marigold from the morning prayers. They are typical, almost universal, they cut across all religions. —