Summary of Menka Shivdasani’s ‘The Atheist’s Confessions’

The Atheist’s Confessions first appeared in Menka Shivdasani‘s Stet and the poem has been translated into Marathi and Malayalam. It is a poem of devotion and disillusionment, of assurance and aloofness. It ironically recounts the journey of a young girl, from the age of thirteen to twenty-two, and involves the readers in the expedition with complete enthusiasm. The various experiences that the narrator had undergone within these years are very well expressed and the readers find themselves getting pulled towards analyzing which particular year they belong to and whether their experiences match to that of the narrator‘s. This sense of connection develops a beautiful involvement and attachment of the readers with the narrator.

The narrator starts her expedition from the age of thirteen – the adolescent age where belief and faith in God reigned and she felt completely captivated by the charm of the supreme. Totally engrossed in the holy musical tunes, she lost herself in the power and blessings of the almighty. It is her upbringing that guides her intuitions and teaches her discipline. The external symbols of religion, like ‘agarbatti‘, ‘prasad‘, ‘rose-petal strewn at the earthgod‘s feet‘, etc. mean a lot to her and she is completely engrossed in the holiness created in and around her. She becomes involved so much that her head reels at the devotional incense stick aromas and her conscience doesn‘t allow her to have ‘prasad‘ before taking bath. It is the adolescent mind‘s complete surrender to the supreme authority.

And then at the age of fourteen her trust is shaken when her purse is ‘slashed‘ in the temple crowds. The ‘purse‘ stands as a symbolic representation of any wrong doing that might come across to a girl at such a tender age. The thorough confidence that she builds about god no longer exists and she forces herself to reconsider that faith in this altogether different world. Fourteen-and- a-half and she starts questioning her own self, wondering at her belief and loyalty. She felt that the gods no longer smiled at her and for the first time she realized that they couldn‘t smile because they were made of stone. Actually faith and devotion comes through acceptance and belief and when that is lost one feels that god is close and so does not exist at all. This is the age that one comprehends that one has been worshipping the stone statues and the distance between god and her widens.

At the age of fifteen the world of the narrator starts taking a different diversion. Youth icons, like the Beatles, become her new gods, the new areas of worship. It is the westernized liberated lifestyle that she starts admiring and trespassing. Watching channel 25, eating ‘fish fingers in between gin‘, she seems totally mesmerized by this new outlook and accomplishment. She becomes so outspoken that on World Religion Day she goes to the extent of making a speech saying that god didn‘t exist. The arrogant self that has surrendered itself to the hands of western slavery forgets its traditional culture and custom including its faith in the supreme. She is eighteen now and knows nothing else but her own self. Everything she does is for the sake of her own self because in this age it is all she understands to worship of. Now she is an individualist, searching for freedom and self-dependence. And so she does not even fear to announce and authenticate that she is a confirmed atheist.

At twenty, life takes another route when love shines like a new god on her and she is thoroughly submerged in the warmth of affection and admiration. The freshness of youth comes with all happiness and she surrenders herself in the arms of her lover who treats her with rose petals, bouquets and dinners. Enchanted with the wonderful life, she feels at the top of the world. This heavenly life is shattered when she reaches twenty-two and discovers the hostility and sting that love can bring. She is totally devastated as she is completely disheartened with the man she loves and thus endures a total loss of self-respect. The practical world overshadows the romantic world of imagination and she comes out from the chains of her captivating dream. And this is the time that she feels that she no longer worships herself nor her partner.

Life takes a full circle and meets her again at the door step of the ‘puja‘ room which she had abandoned a few years ago. A new faith begins to dawn on her and she wonders whether the gods have ‘faintly beginning to smile again‘ at her. There is a clear ‘philosophy‘ in the poem which is very well-established through the narrator‘s experience that is tangible as well as authentic. Every event has its own significance and yet is related to the other in such a magnificent way that one looks unfounded without the other. The motifs like ‘rose petals‘, ‘puja room‘ etc. are so well expressed that they augment the beauty of the poem as well as the realistic approach of the experiences that a girl undergoes at such a crucial stage of her life.

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