Doing my theological studies in Bangalore in the United Theological College, has been one of the highlights in my academic life. It was not about discipline, punctuality or anything else that one may associate with studying in such an atmosphere. It was about being real, and learning from various experiences to be real. There were for those who chose to open their eyes, plenty of opportunities to take off the unreal mask that many of us are used to wearing. The problem with these masks is that we then become so comfortable with it, that we never take it off, even in the presence of friends and family.
For the purpose of the stimulation of the mind and to test and develop one’s oratorical skills, we had the option of attending either the hostel general body or the student’s general body. This was a place where we would discuss our problems, sometimes for hours unending, mount a verbal assault on each other and then finally shake hands in mutual admiration. You could call it the parliament of theologians. It was not that every solution was hammered out with ease and every problem would be looked into, but that there was a space for discussion.
Among the many matters that came up for heated discussion was the age old one on ‘water.’ The hostellers had an aqua guard for purifying water before consumption. Ten years ago, this was not the heavy duty one, or the one promising reverse osmosis and sweet tasting water, but one which did ordinary work, in ordinary time. For years, we had used water from it, shared water with one another with not a bother. But the complex question was finally raised. “How can we share this water with students from the family quarters when this is supposed to be only for the bachelor and spinster hostellers”? The question shook everyone out of their slumber and a vociferous debate followed. The pendulum swung from one side to the other. Allegations and counter allegations did the rounds with regional affiliations and sensitivity to the ‘other’ being used. There appeared no solution. Because of water, food became an issue as we had to stop the meeting to have dinner. But this was one issue that could not be done away with a closing argument. Even the two teachers could not do anything.
This day, we got our share of reality bites. We could gauge the different groups we were divided into and the reality that we were not willing to part with the water which we were sharing for such a long time.
Amid the growling stomachs and the ayes and the no’s, one hand was lifted. A very weak one I would say. But silence followed nevertheless, more because everyone would have been tired by then. The hand was followed by a question to the chairperson. The question itself ensured more silence. “Respected chairperson, how many litres does it take before we should change the filter of our aqua guard?” There were whispers in the background and a frenzied calculation followed. “3000 litres, replied the chairperson.” Then the weak hand continued, “That means at a minimum rate of 100 students we use 200 to 300 litres every day. And that means in ten days we would have crossed the 3000 litres limit.” More silence and then, “How long has it been since we changed the filter?” Atleast six months said the chairperson after checking with others. The voice concluded, “That means we are sitting here and fighting over water that isn’t purified anyway? So what is the point?” A few gasps here and there were followed by incessant laughter. The chairperson got up to conclude the heated debate and said, “Shall we pray?”
This was indeed a lesson I learnt and still keep close to my heart. We fight over things which are not there. Land which is not ours, water which comes and goes, religion which appears near yet is so distant. Maybe its time for a bit of sense!