So, Pope Benedict has decided that enough is enough. He’s tired, and he’s the first CEO of the Catholic Church to call it quits in 600 years. I can’t say that I’m a fan or anything, but he’s certainly one of the more controversial, and therefore interesting, Popes the world has known. Learned man, possible Nazi sympathiser, and now retiree. So, I pop up to the Vatican to check on him. “Pope saab, what’s up?” I ask him, as he sips some fine wine from a chalet.
“Why son, the Lord, of course,” he answers helpfully. “No, your Holiness, ‘What’s up’ is merely a figure of speech. I’m just asking how you’re doing, now that you’ve stepped down. Are you looking for a new gig, don’t you have a bucket list of what you’d like to do now that you’ve decided to chill in life?” “My boy, I have one wish, can you help me fulfill it?” “Benedict Ratzinger, your wish is my command” “I’d like you to make me understand that great religion of India — Hinduism” “Okey dokey, Pope saab, I will.” And so I take the great man to the Kumbh Mela. Off we go to Allahabad, Pope Benedict XV1 and me to check out the ‘once in 12 years’ tamasha.
We look out at the 100 million people. At the multitude of multi-coloured tents. A created city on a river bed. “Ever seen so many people outside the Vatican, dude Benedict?” We are truly at the Woodstock of Hinduism. So many different acts on show. The overwhelming sea of orange. Sadhus and saints of every hue and colour. Each one looking like a version of Bob Marley. Chanting and the strong scentof chillums rent the air. We go from tent to tent, each holy man offering us his unique Bhakti. And so to Ekadashi, a hugebathing day. Crores of Naga Babas run into the water, ash covering their naked form, this is mass devotion. A stampedeof saffron.
Moradabad, Muzzafarnagar, Amristar, devotees on crutches, devotees of one leg, devotees in wheelchairs. They come from everywhere for their ‘snan’. And we take a boat ride, the Pope and I. Into the Sangam we go — to where the River Ganges meets the River Yamuna. The Pope takes a dip in the freezing water. For that one moment, Christianity meets Hinduism. As he comes up for air, I ask him. “Do you, Your Holiness understand Hinduism a bit”. His reply is simple — yes, but more importantly I think I understand a bit of India.”
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62 @gmail.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.