“Hello… Can I sit here?” Samir asked pointing at the seat right across Sumer who had his head buried in a book.
“Sure,” Sumer sported a pleasant smile as he invited the stranger to sit in front of him. He went back to reading.
“‘Innovative trade tactics – Case study on Iteru Civilization’. Nice,” Samir said reading the header of the book. “Are you a businessman?”
“Student of Business. Still a lot to learn.” Sumer said. “The cities near the Iteru river devise amazing methods to gain profits. They fill up their ships totally differently. Their labor management technique makes it inexpensive.”
“Iteru? Haven’t heard of it”
“It’s the river that joins the chatwar-asht. The great sea.”
“Chatwar-asht?” Samir said; his eyes widening
“Chatwarimshat-ashtadash. I know we should have a shorter name for the sea. But that’s where it is located.”
“Sanskrit name? I like the sound of it.”
“Number, actually. Those are co-ordinates.”
Sumer counted the numbers as Samir tried to make sense of ‘co-ordinates’.
“Forty degrees North; eighteen degrees east,” Samir declared as he understood Sumer’s count before he could finish.
“Yeah. See here,” Sumer said showing the picture of the sea in his book and the “Iteru” river that empties itself in it.
“Oh… Mediterranean sea. And the Nile. Oh! you are talking about the Egyptians.” Samir felt great while connecting the dots.
Samir’s confusion was transferred to Sumer. He had heard all this for the first time.
“What do you do?” Sumer asked.
“I am a student too. Religious studies.”
“Sounds great. What is that?” Sumer said; lines clogging his forehead yet again.
“Religious studies… as in… study of religions,” Samir said his palms facing up.
“Religion? What is that?” Sumer said tilting his head.
“Religion… Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism,” Samir said removing one finger at a time out of his fist as he named them one by one. “Those are different religions,” he continued as he saw Sumer totally lost.
“It is very strange you don’t know. You see… people choose this way of life that they follow throughout. They have different Gods. The methods of worship are different. Their lives are shaped according to what is written in their holy books. Customs and traditions are set for years and people follow them. Just different ways of life. People born into a religion generally go ahead and follow it for rest of their lives.”
“Yeah… entities that they have faith in. As in Hindus have thirty-three crore Gods. Muslims have Allah. Christians have a concept of God and his messenger who is Jesus Christ. Buddhists worship Gautam Buddha,” Samir said creating compartments in the air with his hands
“Buddhism? Gautam Buddha will always be my greatest teacher. His school imparts knowledge of the highest level.” Sumer had respect in his eyes when he said that. “What are Buddhists?”
“The people who worship Buddha.”
“Worship? We have great admiration for him. He has taught us concept of inner peace, happiness and non-violence. The coursework he has designed is one of the best in the world. But worship?” Sumer asked with a squint in his eyes.
“Like when you have faith in some God, you worship Him. You go to a temple or a dargah or a church and pray to him. You ask for what you want. And He gives you blessings.” Samir said giving a little jerk to his shoulders.
“And you worship a certain God because they teach something different than the others? Like… what do the Hindu Gods tell you?”
“Their stories set an example in front of us. To be a good person. To end evil in us. To help others. Make them happy and healthy.”
“And what does Allah teach you?
“Kind of the same… if you sum it up. It’s not any different.”
“Hey look man… It’s all the same with some subtle differences here and there.” Samir was on the brink of losing his temper.
“Calm down, Samir. I am just trying to understand this new concept,” Sumer said waving his hand vertically; with a pristine smile on his face.
“I don’t know how to explain this, Sumer. They are very similar in the basic principles but there are differences in the ways of approaching life. Their stories are different. They have different traditions.”
“I am trying to understand the origin. There are people. Human beings. They live their lives. They have faith in something and they follow it. They surely talk to a supernatural entity. God. But why more than one?”
“Common people cannot talk in empty space, Sumer. They need some face. Some humanoid to talk to. Their grievances. Their needs and aspirations. They need to be in front of someone.”
“Makes sense. But, in the end, aren’t they talking to the universe? The God. One entity. Also, my teachers always taught me that there is no such thing as “faith in God”. Faith is God. If you have faith in something; faith in being good, gaining knowledge, helping others; that becomes your God. You talk to him. He will listen. Why do you need different arms to humanity? “
“It’s not that simple. They are told that a particular God will give them better results than others.”
Both laughed at how Samir put it. It sounded so ridiculous.
“And who does that?” Sumer still could not hold his laughter.
“Scriptures. Prophets. Religious figures. They tell people to worship a certain God. Sometimes they ask people to abandon a God and worship another one. Sometimes they coax. Sometimes they force.”
“Aren’t they missing the point? How does that help? People find their solutions with God. And they think one God provides better solutions than others?”
“It is not only that, Sumer. Everything is prescribed by religion and it is different. Like Hindus wear a holy thread. Muslims are supposed to grow beards. Buddhist monks wear simple saffron clothing and shave their heads. Just like you,” Samir pointed at Sumer who was wearing the exact same saffron garment. His head was shaved.
“What? This is our university uniform. It is this saffron clothing so that all students become equal in front of the teachers. We are supposed to be on campus wearing this uniform. This is how we sit in the class. Once we get home we can wear anything. We shave our heads to avoid distractions. That’s all.”
“Yeah… but doesn’t Buddhism preach its followers to wear this?” Samir asked as it was conflicting to his knowledge.
“Noo… What is Buddhism, anyways? Buddha started a school. He always only taught. He did not force us to wear anything. And clothes? They are so trivial. Why would a religion enforce that?”
There was silence for a couple of moments. Sumer kept shaking his head.
“And I know what the ‘Holy thread’ in Hindus might be for,” Sumer said with now nodding. “To support their clothes.”
Sumer’s entire body shook in excitement. He buried his head in his hands and began to shake his head, yet again. Samir could not help but smile.
“And people in the banks of Iteru river grow a beard. They tell me it helps prevent desert sand from going in their mouth. Let me guess where Islam originated…”
“Near Chatwarimshat-ashtadash,” both of them spoke in unison. Sumer looked up at Samir and both smiled.
“By the way. I am Samir. Oxford University.”
“Sumer… Nalanda University.”