As a young girl, I was taught to pray to God in times of dire situations and special occasions. Our God? The one who brandishes a bow and an arrow, the one who wears a peacock feather on his head, the one who drapes a snake on his neck, the one who appears as 9 different avatars and is the epitome of woman power, and so on. It was only when I grew up that I started asking questions that were not supposed to be asked. Why do we need to worship an idol to pray? Is it necessary to be physically present to pray or the mental focus is more important? Should I only pray when I need something or am sad and not when am happy or just want to pray? What if I don’t want to follow the norm and take my own path in finding my God? Needless to say, I asked these questions to myself and not to others for the fear of being misunderstood. For years I worshipped God in the form of the idol kept at my mother’s home before I understood that I don’t believe in them, rather I believe in faith. Aashish Gupta’s novel, Faith’s Eternal Sunshine explores this possibility of faith independent of a physical form of God.
Manjiri is meeting her friend Manu after 20 long years. Once a banker, Manu had left his job and the city life for good to settle on the Andamans and had even bought a small island a little away for himself and his peace. Today, he was taking Manjiri on to the same island, Matsya island, and to the little cottage he had built there, the God’s Palace. What begins as a dare for Majiri to willingly get locked in a cell and find the key to getting out turns into her nightmare when Manu traps her without an escape the second time. Believing that he wouldn’t keep her locked for so long, Manjiri waits for him to come and open the gates and solidify her wavering faith in him again. But, Manu has other plans.
Surviving on a bowl of rice and daal each day for days on end, Manjiri finds herself losing her mind, reliving past memories from a life she had chosen to forget until desperation leads her to find a diary hidden deep into the rat hole whose occupants inhabited her cell. As she begins reading the diary of Azeem, she starts seeing her situation in a different light. She can’t stop herself from reading and noticing how she and Azeem’s life are connected despite them being two very different persons. Gaining her lost strength from Azeem’s words, Manjiri forces herself to see good in what is happening. Although it doesn’t seem like the very best of the ideas, it gives her the much-needed hope to keep living in that hell hole of a cell.
Will Manjiri know Manu’s intentions behind his behavior? Will she ever be able to walk over the threshold of the cell, towards the free air that she hasn’t breathed in for so long? Most importantly, will she learn something out of this life-altering experience that she has been subjected to or will it end her life without providing any meaning?
With its pace set fast, the narration is done in the third person. At places, the pace becomes too fast. So much that a little extra is left for the reader to understand and read between the lines. There are certain grammatical errors, would have been avoided with better editing. Mostly, it is Manjiri’s character that is spoken about. Since a major part of the story is based on her, needless to say, it’s her character that has been built in-depth with minute details woven intricately to bring across a strong protagonist. The author’s attempt at questioning, rather finding the answer to what is God may seem profane, but as one delves deeper into the story, one starts questioning if the norms that have been prevalent since ever. Nothing is written for fun or without meaning, each and every instance, and example carries a certain significance that is co-related to something in the past or the future. Even the most horrific of the acts holds importance and proves to be the building block of maturity that comes with living life. Manjiri’s life would have been wasted away cleaning dishes at the Chinese van had Manu not entered. But when the same Manu changes his color faster than a chameleon, Manjiri is shell-shocked. How is she supposed to react to her friend cum savior turned captor? For her, it becomes impossible to see light at the end of the tunnel. It is only when her fogged eyes are cleared that she sees the truth behind it all.
Before finding our God, we all need one thing that holds the prime position on the list of prerequisites, if there is any, to find God. It is faith. Faith is the perhaps only thing that drives this insane world. In a world where misery is more common than a smile, faith provides the courage to keep going. We know that death is inevitable but we still make plans and plans, that is faith. And faith does not necessarily bring God along with it, it may become our God itself, the guiding light, the eternal sunshine.