Saturday, October 19, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L


Have you seen God?
Khushwant Singh

NO, I have not seen God. Nor do I believe that anyone at anytime, past or present, has seen him. As for me, even if I came face to face with Him, I would not recognise Him. Were he to give me his visiting card with only one three-letter word printed on it and say "I am God", I would say in utter disbelief "Tell me another."

However, there have been, and are today, people who claim to have seen him and have given graphic descriptions of him. I am not talking of people who make airy-fairy statements like "God is everywhere; you only have to have eyes to see him", or as is more common now, "God is within you". No X-rays of the human body show the presence of anything resembling God. "God is truth; God is love," say many others, as did Bapu Gandhi. I do not know what truth and love look like: one is a principle of social behaviour, the other an emotion.

In our country most people believe in gods in human form. There is, of course, the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Creator, Preserver and Destroyer), but these are more concepts of a divinity than visible people. To many Shri Rama was, and is, God. To others it is Shri Krishna. Many believe Shri Satya Sai Baba is God incarnate; others believe Osho was Bhagwan. All were and are mortals, some have gone, others are on the way out. Yet everyone insists that God is immortal. I am baffled.

EARLIER COLUMNS
Mocking at oneís own people
October 12, 2002
Keeping Urdu alive
October 5, 2002
How a rapist should be punished
September 28, 2002
Historical research: Punjabi style
September 14, 2002
No one will go hungry
September 7, 2002
Neither blind nor deaf to the beauties of nature
August 24, 2002
More about life after death
August 17, 2002
Importance of being important
August 10, 2002
Land-grabbing in the name of God
August 3, 2002
On being alone but not lonely
July 27, 2002
When rituals defy reason
July 20, 2002


For whatever they are worth, some people have given vivid descriptions of what God looks like and have even made his pictures. He is invariably portrayed as a patriarch with flowing snow-white beard, a man in his 60s or 70s. Did He age with the years or came into being an old man? Perhaps by depicting him as an old man the artist meant to convey wisdom and experience.

Some of the Old Testament prophets claimed to have seen God. Ezekiel describes him thus: "Above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." Prophet Daniel added his own description: "The Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire." The poet-painter William Blake painted God as a venerable father of humanity.

Our sacred scriptures do not venture to depict God. Even Shri Krishnaís self-portraiture in the Bhagavadgita extolling his omniscience and omnipotence does not describe his physical features. The one thing that all descriptions of the divinity have in common is light in its most dazzling form.

There is also a charming description of God in Bhai Bulaís Janamsakhi of Guru Nanak. This Janamsakhi (life story) is discarded by scholars as spurious and written much after Guru Nanak. It describes God as a long-bearded old man draped in white clothes sitting on an ornate charpoy surrounded by fat buffaloes bursting with milk ó an exact representation of a peasantís concept of a rich Punjabi zamindar.

Have any readers seen God in person? Will they care to enlighten me?

Rain, puppy dogs & spiders

There was a time when you could predict the arrival and departure of the monsoon with reasonable accuracy. First you heard the Megha Papeeha (monsoon bird) which flies ahead of the rain clouds. A few hours later the monsoon hit the Malabar & Konkan coast and proceeded on its triumphal march across the subcontinent like an army carrying black banners, hurling lightning to clear its way followed by a roll of drums, and rain. The searing heat of summer gave way to rain-sodden breezes. It was more pleasant to stay in the plains then in the mountains which got an overdose of it. I planned my summers to conform to natureís calendar: Stay in Delhi in July & August, go up to Kasauli in early September when the mountains are well-washed and green and hillsides flecked with wild flowers.

So, I left Delhi on September 1. Before the Shatabdi Express passed Sonepat (25 miles along the route), it began to rain and continued to pour all the way to Chandigarh. The Sidhus, Poonam and Karanjit, were to drive us (my daughter Mala was with me) to Kasauli to spend the afternoon and evening with us. The downpour washed out their plans. Poonam had food and drink meant for four. My daughter and I ate it for four days.

We were not the only people to be fooled by the weather. There was heavy uphill traffic on the Chandigarh-Shimla road, and right into the heart of Kasuali. So instead of sitting out in the garden, and gazing into the blue heavens, I spent the first few days indoors by the fireside, wrapped up in a shawl against the chill and dampness, wishing I was back in Delhi.

Locked up indoors all day and all night can be boring beyond endurance. I want company, not necessarily human company because humans are demanding and talk too much. I found exactly what I was looking for. From one end of the garden I often saw a young couple, a man and his strapping wife sitting on a charpoy with a black goat and fluffy black-and-white dog of no pedigree. They made a perfect picture of contentment. The dog, actually it was a bitch, often went through my garden. My attempts to get her to sit by me for a while were ignored. The one evening when the rain stopped and I was back in my garden, I saw a tiny pup, black-and-white, fluffy and of no pedigree stumbling along and shivering in the cold. I picked it up and cuddled it in my shawl. It looked up with its shiny black eyes to ask who I was. I rubbed its ears gently. It licked my hand to say thank you, made sweet moaning sounds, stopped shivering and fell asleep. There are a few experiences more gratifying than to have a child fall sleep in onearms. Then its mother came along and I put it down on the ground. She scolded her pup for allowing strangers to take liberties with it and led it back to its home with the black goat and their young master and mistress. It didnít take me much to persuade them to give the puppy to me as soon as it was weaned. He spends an hour every evening in my lap nibbling at my cardigan buttons, pawing my hands and taking a nip of my fingers with its pin-sharp teeth. I look forward to its evening visits. He is a good listener and never talks back. It is male and I have given it the name Billoo. When I go back to Delhi he will stay with the housekeeper. When I return to Kasauli next spring, he will be full-grown and will protect of my little villa.

Constant companions I have had ever since I started coming up to Kasauli are a family of spiders. They live apart in three bathrooms. I have no phobia about spiders, so I never disturb them. But I am curious to know why they stay in dark, smelly bathrooms and what they live on. They do not spin webs to catch flies or other insects; in any case there are no flies or insects to catch. They hardly ever move from their chosen spots on the wall; and when they do, the only scamper along to some place where they cannot be seen. However, one evening I spotted one along the seat of my W.C. I didnít want to take a chance of being bitten: some spiders are known to be venomous. I brushed it aside with a newspaper. My curiosity was aroused. Back in my study I consulted my book on insects. Lo and behold, it said spiders are not insects at all but only insect like. Insects have three parts, head, thorax and abdomen; spiders have only two; four pairs of legs and no antennae. "Okay," I said to them. "You are no miserable insects, but belong to the species arachnida, but what on earth do you live on? Where and how do you breed? Do you have predators that live on you?" One day I hope to solve the mystery of the webless spider and vagaries of the monsoon. I must also find out why Kasauli has no fire-flies (jugnu) but lots of glow-worms.

Blissful ignorance

Once Albert Einstein went to a New York restaurant. Having forgotten his reading glasses at home, he asked the waiter to read out the menu for him. "Sorry, Sir," he replied, "I am like you. I cannot read or write either!"

(Contributed by Manjitinder Singh Johal, Ludhiana)

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