Amritsar

I covered her eyes with my right hand. “Don’t look! Don’t look!” I said to my sister who was sitting to my left on a bicycle rickshaw as we were passing the gate of the Golden Temple on a gloomy grey humid summer afternoon. I had already seen hints of the giant golden structure that illuminated through one of the tall gates that enveloped the temple, all three of us promised each other not to peak. The gold pierced through the gates like rays of the sun. Each gate facing the cardinal directions East, West, North and South so that a person can enter the temple from any direction her religion dictated, each direction welcoming people from all walks of life regardless of religion, caste, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation and race. There was a sense of comfort being so close to the Gurdwara, it felt like a home away from home.

The skies began to darken and it appeared that the light rain could be replaced with a heavy shower in any moment now. Our large suitcases fastened securely behind us, stuffed with our lives kept bumping up and down as the wheels of the rickshaw went over rubble increasing my anxiety that the rickshaw could tip over into a puddle of water marking us with cuts, scrapes and bruises and a trip to the local hospital. The sound of car and bicycle horns in the chaos of traffic outside of the sacred complex filled our ears, the intense heat mixed with the dizzying smell of pollution and roadside dhabba cooking oil used to fry samosas filled our noses and despite the two hour car ride in the rain to get into the city my tiredness was slowly being replaced with excitement. We had just arrived in Amritsar from Una, two weeks into our one month trip to India in July of 2012.

The first time I had ever visited the Golden Temple was when I was eleven years old and I have been visiting the Golden Temple almost every day with my grandmother as she watched a live telecast of the morning and evening prayers on T.V. Although not present physically, my vivid memories of echoing ardas blaring from the speakers and a starry cold night transported me there. After years of dreaming about Amritsar, imagining how it would feel to be sitting by the pool of water I was finally there. After checking into our accommodations, freshening up and having a light snack (which consisted of Uncle Chips (which are amazing! I love them but can’t find them in Canada, along with some Aquafina water because everything we drank was filtered to prevent our weak little touristy tummies from getting sick) we ventured to the premises of the temple.

I walked through the giant white marble gates and removed my shoes to wash my feet. The marble floor was sun kissed and felt warm beneath my toes, different from how it felt 15 years ago in the middle of the winter when the white marble was a frozen slab making it completely unbearable to walk on even while wearing the thickest of socks. I walked into the tiny basin of water to wash my feet and walked out, with my feet still wet I continued on adoring the white marble encrusted with precious stones arranged in a decorative Islamic-style floral print into the complex still in awe of where I was. The volume of the shabad increased as I approached the middle of the complex, before my eyes was the sarovar, a giant pool of water that surrounded the Golden Temple. The refection of the Golden Temple in sarovar was spectacular, I was unable to decipher whether I looking at a expressionist painting or was in a dream or if this was my reality. I was in complete bliss.

The place was even more beautiful than I had imagined it to be and the Golden Temple was breathtakingly stunning. The free standing 22 karat gold plated structure was radiant and there was a sublime peacefulness that blanketed the complex. It was surreal, a retreat for a wandering curious and philosophical mind that was seemingly sure of the nature of reality and rejected the existence of God but accepted the possibility of there being one. A perfect place for contemplation and reflection, a place in which it is so easy to lose track of time. The aura around the shrine was indescribable, it was alive with religious fervour and sacredness that one did not have to be the least bit religious to feel. There was a felt warmth, intensity, and sincerity that could not be replicated nor matched as I made my way to the Harmandir Sahib waiting my turn in line amongst the devoted pilgrims that crowded in to bow my head before the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred holy book.

I don’t believe in a God. It’s a conscious and educated decision that I made when I turned eighteen. In my last year of high school I began to question concepts and ideas that were presented to me as absolute knowledge as a kid growing up. Is lying absolutely wrong? Is there such thing as doing “good”? Why should I give to charity? Why should I vote? Why should I shower every morning? And Since God played such a huge role in my life (as it was the cause of early morning Gurdwara trips that interrupted not only my precious sleep but Sunday morning cartoons) it was going to go under the most scrutiny.

After some careful thought with the aid of some highly intelligent professors and lots of deep reflective reading (along with regular coffee) so good (the combination of course, because coffee on it’s own isn’t that great unless it’s sipped slowly in front of a very cute guy which hasn’t happened in a while and now I want to stop blogging and cry) that it kept me distracted from reality TV (at it’s prime. I decided. I couldn’t believe in God any longer, my reason would not let me and my new found concept of autonomy (thanks to Sartre) gave me the freedom to reject it.

An entity that I grew up being forced to believe in (because there was no alternative to not believing in God because it was a fact, God existed. And also freedom of thought wasn’t a thing growing up in our house) was omniscient, benevolent and omnipresent and after some thought God turned out to be quite the opposite. There seemed to be some contradictions in God’s characteristics that I could not iron out.

God is benevolent. God loves every one of her/his creation and like a good parent she/he plays no favourites. However the state of the world seems to suggest quite the opposite. On Earth more than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day, millions of people don’t have access to clean drinking water and basic sanitary washrooms. Many are subject to cruel and unusual punishment, have incurable diseases or diseases in which there is a cure except only they do not have enough to money to afford to buy the medication, so many people die from natural disasters, fetuses are aborted because they are the “wrong gender” (typically the baby girl sex), children have to choose between an education or are forced to work in order provide for their family thereby being robbed of a childhood, womyn are married off to men they hardly know and people live in cities that are constantly under a smog advisory (only to name a few evils). Conversely on the same Earth the Kardashian’s are rich and famous for being stupid and have the opportunity and means to purchase a handbag that costs enough to feed a family of 3 for an entire year (assuming the family resides in North America), purchase a car that costs enough to sustain a household of 5 and perhaps live comfortably 10 life times over on their total asset. Point made. Now how can there be so much evil in a world where God is all loving? How could many people on Earth live in such dire conditions while the same people on Earth live in comfort, excess and quality? This lead me to question God’s benevolence.

God is omnipotent, she/he has the power to do anything which includes the humanly impossible which means preventing evil which includes all of the above mentioned ones and many more (including and not limited to people taking selfies, the word selfie even being a word in the dictionary, people who cannot spell and people who smell). However her/his omnipotence seems to be at odds with God’s omniscience and more importantly, it is at odds with the existence of evil.

God is omniscient, God is the most intelligent being in the world. But how can God be all knowing in a world where so much evil that I have mentioned exists? Wouldn’t her/his foreknowledge prevent all the massive amounts of evil and also prevent the Kardashians from having their show renewed for yet another season? And also prevent me from the sheer misery of serving the stupid, smelly, uneducated, rude and disgusting (only to name a few) general public at the bank which causes me so much anger and frustration? So it seems to me that either three of the possibilities are true: 1) either God is not omniscient because if she/he was God’s intelligence would allow her/him the foreknowledge to prevent disasters from occurring, God could create a different outcome 2) God is intelligent but not benevolent because although she/he has the intelligence to prevent evil from happening God does not love human beings enough to provide them all with a high level of quality of life or 3) God is not omnipotent because if God were then God would have the power to prevent evil from occurring especially since God has the foreknowledge. 4) God has the knowledge but does not have the power to prevent evil.

One natural disaster occurs after another, war, famine and death of so many innocent children seems to be a natural recurrence. Furthermore, how can God’s omniscience exist alongside human free will? If God is omniscient then do humans have free will? The concept of free will becomes the centre of controversy as if God is omniscient and human beings do not have free will then they are fated. Which essentially means that we can do whatever we want and our actions cannot be subject to moral judgement. If this is the case then tomorrow I will just sleep in a bit, skip work entirely and watch youtube videos all day because this is my fate, God wanted it that way.

Of course if I did this I’d get fired (and lose my means to travel) but how can I be morally judged for this? Also, if I began to lie to my boss, and presented her with excuses as to why I repeatedly don’t show up from work then my lying cannot be subject to moral judgement because I was fated to lie.

I was unsettled at the thought of human beings being in possession of free will if God supposedly “knew all”, and was not willing to entertain the thought of mild determinism and completely rejected determinism and fatalism. I could not take seriously arguments for God’s benevolent nature as God was then playing favourites, turning her back on half of the world’s hungry, allowing them to starve and die while those in the “first world” lived in luxury (that includes those on welfare because this is welfare in a country with a relatively better standard of living than other countries).

So now the question I have been asking myself for years. Given that I do not believe in God, reject God’s existence but believe (since it is human to err) that there could be the slightest possibility that I am wrong and that God does exist (but unlike Pascale I am unwilling to make a wager in God’s favour) why do I go to the Gurdwara?

The Gurdwara for me has been a part of my upbringing. Sikhism taught me (despite being rooted in the foundation of God) about humanity, compassion for others especially those that might be your “enemy”, forgiveness, giving back to the community, how to be selfless and how to live a truthful and honest existence (truthfully and honestly as possible, of course it is impossible to be truthful and honest at all times). Of course one can look at me and say “ah ha! So you’re saying that God is required in order for morality to exist!”. No, I am not saying that because morality would exist in a world where God does not exist, morality would exist in communities in which there is no concept of God and it does. Morality could exist in both a God existing and Godless world because people would be bound by telling the truth, living honestly, being compassionate and caring by virtue of existing amongst each other. Doing the opposite would null and void the meaning of all those words, honesty would be an empty concept if no one was honest and everyone broke promises. It is just that the family I was born into are  I was born into was where I learned those concepts and when I bow my head before the Guru Granth Sahib I bow my head before the wisdom contained in the lines written by the Gurus who did not claim to have God like powers but taught Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus alike how to be better humans in order to live a fulfilling and meaningful life during our short time here on Earth.

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Amritsar

my 4th day in Prague

I haven’t blogged since I left Prague for Toronto. Not because I immediately found a life after coming back from an amazing trip or landed into the opposite of unrequited love or anything (which by the way had that happened, I would have probably pressed paused right in the middle of the syrupy sweet romantic action just to blog about the turn my life had taken).

I landed in Toronto on Wednesday at 6pm. Thursday I spent the day working at my dad’s shop (I know, I went to work 15 hours after returning home, could his daughter get any more amazing?). Friday I took a me-day to run some personal errands which included dropping my sister off to work at 11am, getting my eyebrows done and my hair cut (which by the way looks super sexy, she blow dried it and everything and I had run-your-fingers-through-it-hair-hair and sadly as my luck would have it I had no one to admire it or run their fingers through it so I came home and tied it up), buying a coffee and bringing it to my sister’s work, getting a price match on some clothes from Smart Set (which was my sole purpose for walking into a shop, I did not intend to purchase more, it just happened because fall clothing are just so pretty and now I am dreading my credit card bill) and then I started watching Brooklyn 9 9 (a comedy about a team of New York detectives that I
started watching on the plane ride back home and then I found on Net Flix!). Saturday I spent the afternoon with my sister on a mini day trip to St Jacobs market and village which is an hour away from Etobicoke where we visited a farmer’s market, shopped at some quaint little boutiques and took some beautiful pictures of the farm.

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(the above photograph is one taken with my Blackberry, no filter in St Jacobs, Ontario. Me and my sister stopped the car in the middle of the road just to capture autumn)

That brings me to Sunday (right now).

Let me tell you about my fourth day in Prague.

Sunday. After waking up from getting absolutely no sleep because of the sound of my mother snoring (which she thinks a pair of foamy ear plugs could drown out) I pressed the snooze button and slept for half an hour longer. Still not satisfied with the amount of sleep I got I somehow got myself out of bed, showered, and we headed straight to our new favourite coffee shop near the bus stop. When I looked at the menu which was written in chalk my eyes immediately went straight to the Bombay Railway Chai. It;s like India follows me where ever I go so I asked the barrista to make me the chai and she suggested that I turn it into a latte. I took her personal suggestion and it was lovely. Since I had stayed away from chocolate for the entire month of August I said yes to every chocolate, pastry, coffee and cookies that came my way in Prague so I had the cliche European breakfast. A latte and brownies and there were no calories in either.

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After my 0 calorie breakfast we headed straight to Prague castle which is the largest castle in the world and it was spectacular. Prague castle has one of the most spectacular views of Prague (the first of course being the view from the Dancing House). I didn’t have a desire to take a tour inside the castle because I wanted to visit Stemberk Palace to see the art work Renbrandt and Van Dyke so me and my mom walked outside the huge complex of buildings and courtyards of this 1000 year old structure. This castle had just about every architectural style, it was mysterious, romantic and grand. After walking through the castle’s premises I found Stemberk Palace which is part of the nTiona and the only thing that impressed me about this building were the giant doors that led me in. The artwork was nice but it wasn’t displayed appropriately. The interior lacked an ambiance which I expected to me more finished and that really affected my experience of viewing
some of these 100 year old paintings.

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(photograph of Prague Castle by me)

After my slight disappointment of the art gallery me and my mom headed down the steps of Prague castle to the city. The stairs aren’t steep which made for a leisurely comfortable walk down. The best part of the descend down are the art, coffee and souvenir shops they have set up along the way where you can stop and shop which also adds to the excitement of transitioning from the ancient castle to the lively city. Once we reached the bottom we walked to the famous Charles Bridge.

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(photograph of a window in the art gallery)

The Charles Bridge was once the most important bridge for commerce in Prague (don’t ask me anything related to this sentence because I totally ripped it off from my tour guide Travis). It’s still a very important bridge in Prague but now it is significant for tourism. The entire path of the bridge is lined with cobble stone and intricate statues and lamp posts on both sides. The best part of the bridge is the stunning view of the skyline and the river below. This is one of the most romantic bridges that I have ever walked on. It’s purely a pedestrian bridge and there are musicians that play instruments such as the violin and accordion, artists who do caricature sketches and vendors selling art, jewellery and other tiny trinkets and treasures. I loved walking on this bridge because there was so much excitement in the air and about half way through our walk it began to rain! Immediately all the vendors covered their merchandise with clear plastic sheets for about 15 minutes until the rain stopped. When we were crossing the bridge I saw a vendor who had a collection of white appeared to be photographs of the Lennon Wall. I had a feeling that it was close by so I asked him if he could direct me to one of the places that I was dying to see.

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(photograph of the entrance to Charles Bridge by me)

Right in the middle of the bridge there are steps leading down the bride to the river. Me and mom took the stairs down which led to another small little outdoor market and a 2 minute walk to the Lennon Wall. This wall is filled with graffiti, art and John Lennon lyrics and has an interesting history. During communism John Lennon was very inspirational to Czech youth because he sang songs of freedom and independence, both of which were ideals not available at the time. At the time Czech people were jailed and/or fined for simply playing Beatles music or John Lennon’s music. I learned that a lot of their music was illegally smuggled into the Czech Republic and listening to it gave the youth quite a high, the lyrics and the message behind the music was rather revolution to a country which was under a socioeconomic system in which thinking outside the box was discouraged and freethinking was neither encouraged nor cultivated. When Lennon was shot in 1980, this wall near the river became a tribute to John Lennon by the youth. The mural of John Lennon and the graffiti were repeatedly painted over by the authorities but the Czech youth would continue to repaint the wall with Lennon images and words. When we visited the wall there was a musician standing near the wall playing the music of John Lennon and the wall is a colourful tribute to Lennon and his simple message of peace.

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This wall was one of my favourite sites in Prague because it had so much heart and soul. I couldn’t believe that something so basic as listening to music was once illegal in this country and is still illegal in some parts of the world. I stood in front of this wall for a good ten minutes taking photographs, reading the graffiti and reflecting upon it’s history and our social progress. The wall reminded me that freedoms so fundamental to human existence such as freedom of thought, belief, opinion, expression, conscious and religion are still not available to everyone in this world and are ones that I take for granted every single day.

my 4th day in Prague