Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: India (02/12/09)
By Gregory Kane
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Raashid held down the cursor on his keyboard and scrolled back through the email from his line manager. It was the fifth time he had put in for a promotion at the massive call centre where he worked. But each time his application had been rejected. No reason was ever given. In frustration Raashid snatched up the wireless mouse and hurled it across the tiny cubicle.
He thought himself a good Hindu. All his life he had practised the way of svadharma, respecting those of a higher caste, choosing a devout wife (one who faithfully remembered the daily offerings of fruit and flowers at their apartment shrine), and providing a son and heir to carry on his family name. He even continued his father's and grandfather's devotion to the goddess, Devi, in all of her manifest forms. The year before he had accompanied his wife to Durgapuja where they had joined an enormous crowd in casting papier-mâché models of the ten-armed warrior goddess Durga into the Ganges.
Yet for all his attention to religious duty, his career seemed to have stalled. Raashid had no desire to remain just another worker bee in a vast hive already overcrowded with interchangeable drones. He longed to get ahead, to gain that promotion, to provide for his wife and son. But it seemed that callous fate was holding him back.
At first the dream brought tender comfort. But later it turned into an impossible nightmare.
Raashid was reminded of his first Sony video recorder, long before DVDs became so common-place. It was as if some divine finger were resting on the rewind button. There was his wedding... there his graduation from university. There he was as a child... there an infant in his mother's arms. Then blackness.
The image cleared. Raashid watched as a crippled beggar trawled through the rotten fruit and discarded jars of a municipal refuse dump. The face was different but somehow he understood that the man's soul was his own. Samsara the priests called it, in English reincarnation. Did this imply that Raashid's current life was substantially better? At least he didn't have to grovel to fill his stomach.
The tape slipped further back and Raashid found himself staring in horror at an emaciated peasant woman. She carried the bruises of constant beatings from an unforgiving husband, indignant that she had borne him only daughters.
The next figure was of a corpulent merchant gorging himself on roast beef and chicken. Was this the sin that had condemned future rebirths to a life of poverty and misfortune?
The final transition was almost instantaneous. He beheld a pale old man lying prostrate on one of the ghats at the pilgrim city of Varanasi. The man was clearly down to his last few breaths and in his dying eyes Raashid saw the reflection of his own tormented soul. Suddenly a stranger walked up, lifted the frail figure in his arms and carried him down into the waters of the Ganges. There his sins would be wiped away. There his death would secure him eternal salvation. This is what the priests promised—
Just then the implications of the vision struck Raashid: the holy waters availed nothing; the following reincarnation was the sin-soaked trader who thought only of his pleasures. The whole shoddy framework of karma and samsara was a fraud.
Raashid woke with a start. His computer was beeping insistently, screaming that a new email had arrived. Already he could see heads raised from neighbouring cubicles, fellow employees wondering why he wasn't responding to the electronic summons. Instinctively he gave thanks to Parvati that his manager hadn't caught him dozing at his work-station. Then, retrieving his mouse, he clicked to open Outlook.
“Feel like you're stuck in a never-ending circle?” Raashid's curiosity was piqued by the subject line. It was from Simon Patel, that new systems analyst from Andhra Pradesh. Why ever was he sending him an email?
Clicking open the message, he was stunned by the coincidence of the timing. Simon had written powerfully and succinctly of his disillusionment with Hinduism and his subsequent conversion to Christianity. And he was inviting Raashid to meet with him over lunch to talk further.
Raashid didn't hesitate. Devi and her ilk would have to excuse him for a while. He urgently needed to learn about this very different god called Jesus.
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