Stone God

Ibrahim Waheed “Kalaavehi”

I took a relaxed afternoon walk on a narrow, unpaved path to a nameless hamlet in a country whose soul had melded itself into mine through the graciousness of kindred spirits. I was interested in meeting an old friend who had promised to take me to a particularly elusive faith healer.

I had not walked far when I bumped my shoes against something hard in the tough brush and nearly lost my balance. Giving vent to an unintended expletive, and a immediately saying a few appropriate words of atonement, I realized that I had stumbled upon the ancient feet of a black stone statue that had been obviously been abandoned for some time.

Gathering my morals and wits around me like a protective aura, I stepped back and took a fresh look at the great black form, its granite body now almost hidden in a tangle of bush and wild vines. It took me a while to realize that what stood in front of me was the monolithic figure of a deity from a bygone day.

I gazed in wonder into the calm visage of the silent god. Even though his proper name must have inspired awe and reverence among the faithful of those days long gone, his name must have reluctantly folded itself into the dim mists of time. Only the empty stone form had persisted to endure many a forgotten famine, intrigue and war, in the deep silence of a forgotten court. Even the great grandsons of those whose chisels and mallets had hewn his image out of solid rock had found other altars to kneel at.

I looked deep and straight into the blind eyes of the grand granite idol.

Was that a gentle smile, a sardonic smirk, or a resentful sneer on its full, dark lips? Intrigued into fantasy, I almost asked it in a whisper, “What, then, was your real name?”

Was his name evocative of the gracious mercies that rained out of gray skies on dark nights? Was his name on anyone’s lips when the poor forgot their hunger in piety, and the rich in gaiety? Was his name synonymous with dark deeds and his resultant retribution, ensuring perfect compliance without recourse to logic or reason?

How many people wet his cold stone feet with their warm tears, chanted prayers into his unhearing hears, pleaded for the righting of wrongs committed by the rich and the powerful in his name and in the name of good? How many affluent people bribed his robed priests with gold and silver and won the false right to eternal bliss? How many wily kings used his name to command worship as his equals?

And today, there he still stands eternal, his once-sharp features rounded and smudged by centuries of rain and summer. There he stands powerless, with an infidel foreigner staring into his placid face, mocking the irony of his frozen, scornful smile of non-being! And was he still waiting? For what?

A failed god was he! That was what he was and no more. For if he had been what his makers has made him out to be, he would have at least appeared to listen to the pitiful prayers of the poor and lifted them from between the jaws of soul-crunching hunger into satiety. He would have commanded his purported angels to stop the inevitable sale of honest souls. He would have stopped the sale of innocent, unsullied bodies into vice, prostitution and exploitation. He would have stopped his corrupt priests from filling their secret coffers with ill-gotten gold and silver. He would have unhesitatingly struck down the perfidious merchants that sold his name in vain and glorified only themselves.

But what good can a block of black granite, itself the lowly creation of a greater power, do to claim divinity?

Perhaps it had been written into the greater scheme of things that I should take that lesser path to a nameless hamlet that afternoon. Perhaps it had always been my destiny to stumble over the feet of that failed false god that still smiled his once meaningful, now purposeless, smile at me. And perhaps it had been written that I should make the simple first mistake of assuming that that hunk of granite had ever claimed divinity so long ago!

It should never be the humble block of black granite, never the alabaster idol, never any false god that people worship by design, persuasion or ignorance, that must endure the wrath of a prayer unanswered. Those stone gods that people make with their own hands should not become convenient scapegoats on the sacrificial altars of priests without conscience. Icons of jade and jet should not be forced to weather a later deluge of blame for the failure of men to raise themselves above all the lies, the exploitation and the squalor of ignorance! Innocent bits of rock are they. No more!

And then I could understand the smile on the face of the stone god. My guess is that it had been put there on purpose by a clever master sculptor who had always known the truth! Forced into using his hammer and chisel on a piece of inanimate granite to the greater glory of a convenient falsehood, he had rebelled in a quiet, unobtrusive way. His revenge, the ultimate retribution for having been coerced, forced and humiliated into shaping out of nothing what never was or could be, was that earthly, ironic smile!

Enforced divinity being nothing more than a god of cold, black stone!

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