I am having lunch with a couple of Italian colleagues in Milan. They speak of politics and religion – mostly in Italian. I look from face to face gathering clues about the subject matter, all the while killing pasta with a fork. The pasta tastes like shoes. I cover it up with large quantities of tomato sauce.
“Berlusconi .. Italy …screwed..”, a long pause, then laughter. I join in with the sauce sloshing in my mouth, carefully tilting my head upwards so as not to spray sauce on the gentlewoman in front who looks at my mouth nervously.
A few moments pass and I hear “…hindus … pacifists.. shevi.. shiva.. shiva? Shi-va?”
One of the colleague stares at me expectantly. Oh, shoot, what was he asking? I scurry through my unusually volatile short-term memory and salvage pieces of the recent discussion.
“Yes, Shiva. He is the god of destruction. The real god creates him every time he recycles the universe. Besides Shiva, two other gods are created; Brahma, the god of creation; and Krishna, the housekeeping god”
“Hindus are pacifists. No? Unlike christians and muslims. They are not violent”
What? Hell, no. Hindus are as religious as anyone else. What did he think? I give him a briefing of hindu religious fervor in recent years: the Shiv Sena, RSS, Babri masjid, Gujarat… [a good summary here]
Awkward silence. I’ve contradicted my hosts. Uncouth. Perhaps I should say the pantheism of hindus might be a source of tolerence unlike the monotheistic religions which want to kill unbelievers (for the emancipation of the heathens themselves, of course). I decide against it. That would be condescending and could easily be proved wrong if someone bothered to look at hindu religious history. Instead I say he may be right, a lot of violence in the world now seems to happen without help from hinduism, and smile engagingly.
“I like Shi-va”, a colleague says.
“Yeah. I like him too. He brings sweet mercy of death.”
We all laugh.