Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Life is the greatest of all miracles

May 02 2012, By PARVEZ IMAM

In the 15th century, there lived a man who was a mathematician, a physicist, an astronomer, and a philosopher. Among his many achievements were the evolution of the telescope and the astronomical observations that supported the Heliocentric theory put forward by Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus was haunted by the church throughout his later life for the ‘blasphemous idea’. But, our man, Galileo Galilei, with complete knowledge of the religious abhorrence to the idea of shifting the centre of universe from the earth to the sun, still continued to follow his heart and his observations. Slowly, his thoughts, arising from his work, began to find its way beyond the four walls of his workspace into the domain of the common people.

They did not understand the mathematics or the deductions that led him to believe that the earth is moving around the sun. But people found it interesting that someone was questioning what the priest (a strong symbol of power during those times) claimed to be a part of the scriptures. Those were repressive times, with all kinds of taxation on the common man from both the king and the religious leaders supporting the king in the name of the lord. Wonder how much has changed since then? Anyway, people were only too happy to find a chink anywhere in the religious armour to somehow challenge its godly absoluteness and to challenge the guardians without the fear of god. Galileo Galilei was beginning to give them an excuse.

Neither the majority of the astronomers of that time nor the church was happy by his Copernicus-like ideas. Both preferred the geocentric theory, perhaps for their own stability and status, the tendency to resist change that is so well entrenched in all of us. So, when Galileo continued, an inquisition was set up to examine his work. Not surprisingly, they found him ‘vehemently suspect of heresy’ and the man was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. Publishing any of his work (not just the heliocentric theories), but even those he may write in the future, was banned. The ban on the reprinting of his work was finally lifted in 1718.

More than 300 years later, in October 1992, Pope John Paul II expressed his regret and acknowledged the error committed by the tribunal that had judged Galileo. Meanwhile, the earth continued to move. The sun remained motionless. Galileo died. And our behaviour towards new ideas seemed to remain unchanged.

I recently read about a man explaining an apparent miracle in a religious place in Mumbai. Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Rationalist International, visited a site of the miracle where water was trickling out from the feet of Jesus. The news brought many devotees to collect the holy water in bottles. Sanal, however, identified the source of the water and explained the phenomenon through the mechanism of capillary action. That unfortunately did not go down well with some. Soon he was facing FIRs for ‘hurting the religious sentiments’ and a potential arrest by the police under some sections of the IPC. And the earth continued to move quietly as always while the sun shone on it from the same spot.

I sit here wondering what or how many lives will it take for us to understand that one need not seek miracles to exhibit one’s faith in religion. In our effort to claim our gods, we forget to marvel and enjoy the greatest miracle that unfolds every second. Every single moment that flows by, as our hearts tick along telling us that we are alive, is perhaps all that we need to understand the uselessness of any other miracle ever.

(The writer is a filmmaker, traveller and doctor)

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