Alas, the sense of community that a common faith brings to a people spelled trouble for me. In time, my religious doings went from the notice of those to whom it didn’t matter and only amused, to that of those to whom it didn’t matter – and they were not amused.
“What is your son doing going to temple?” asked the priest.
“Your son was seen in church crossing himself,” said the imam.
“Your son has gone Muslim,” said the pandit.
Yes, it was all forcefully brought to the attention of my bemused parents. You see, they didn’t know. They didn’t know that I was a practising Hindu, Christian and Muslim. Teenagers always hide a few things from their parents, isn’t that so? All sixteen-year-olds have secrets, don’t they? But fate decided that my parents and I and the three wise men, as I shall call them, should meet one day on the Goubert Salai seaside esplanade and that my secret should be outed. It was lovely, breezy, hot Sunday afternoon and the Bay of Bengal glittered under a blue sky. Townspeople were out for a stroll. Children screamed and laughed. Coloured balloons floated in the air. Ice cream sales were brisk. Why think of business on such a day, I ask? Why couldn’t they have just walked by with a nod and a smile? It was not to be.We were to meet not just one wise man but all three, and not one after another but at the same time, and each would decide upon seeing us that right then was the golden occasion to meet that Pondicherry notable, the zoo director, he of the model devout son. When I saw the first, I smiled; by the time I had laid eyes on the third, my smile had frozen into a mask of horror. When it was clear that all three were converging on us, my heart jumped before sinking very low.
The wise men seemed annoyed when they realized that all three of them were approaching the same people. Each must have assumed that the others were there for some business other than pastoral and had rudely chosen that moment to deal with it. Glances of displeasure were exchanged.
After the “Hellos” and the “Good days”, there was an awkward silence. The priest broke it when he said, with pride in his voice, “Piscine is a good Christian boy. I hope to see him join our choir soon.”
My parents, the pandit and the imam looked surprised.
“You must be mistaken. He’s a good Muslim boy. He comes without fail to Friday prayer, and his knowledge of the Holy Qur’an is coming along nicely.” So said the imam.
My parents, the priest and the pandit looked incredulous.
The pandit spoke. “You’re both wrong. He’s a good Hindu boy. I see him all the time at the temple coming for darshan and performing puja.”
My parents, the imam and the priest looked astounded. …
An excerpt from Chapter 23 of Yann Martel’s celebrated novel Life of Pi.