By Simone Britto

As I rode in the backseat of my cousin’s tiny yellow car through the bustling town of Panjim, India, to my uncle’s house, I gazed out the window and marveled at the different colors.

It was Christmas season and every building was a different shade of bright pastel, adorned with religious artifacts, from crosses to statues of Hindu gods. The streets overflowed with cars and buses, bikes and people. I felt overwhelmed, my senses bombarded with sights, sounds, and smells as Reuben skillfully navigated his vehicle through the crowds.

Out my window I watched two women walking together. One was wearing a beautiful bright blue patterned sari, while the other wore a black full-body burqa. Clearly they did not practice the same religion, but they were laughing together like best friends.

We turned off the main road to a more residential area near my uncle’s house. I noticed that every house seemed to be celebrating something different. There were houses with shrines to Hindu gods next to homes adorned with colorful star lanterns, an Indian Christmas tradition. We passed a church with a big cross lit up for Christmas, a Hindu temple adorned with colorful statues of the gods, and a domed mosque embellished with multicolored tiles, all within a few blocks of each other.

Reuben, a devout Catholic, stopped his car to let a herd of cows cross the road. I asked why he did not just honk or drive around them. He had not been shy about honking when we were driving through the city.

“That would be disrespectful to Hindus. To them, these animals are sacred,” he replied.

“What do you think of the cows? Does it bother you to have to stop for them?” I asked.

“No. Hindus have faith that God is present in one place, while I believe he is in another, but we are all just looking for the same truth. In the end who is to say that they are not right? I cannot dislike them for having different beliefs than I do or for being faithful to their religion.”

In the news India is not usually portrayed as an especially tolerant country. It seems as if I am always reading articles about the mistreatment of women and ethnic groups. But during that car ride I realized that the country has come a long way. Intolerance did not appear to be as prevalent as the articles had led me to believe. In Panjim different religions coexist, adding to the culture and color of the city.

Surrounded by these different religions I suddenly understood that in many ways they are similar. Nobody, including me, really knows the truth about why we are all here or what comes after this life. Everyone seeks answers. It was an eye-opening moment, both wonderful and a bit intimidating, to realize that we are all in the same position, trying to understand the nature of truth. Ultimately, I have found that truth lies within; it is not something to be dictated by others. It is personal and must be respected, just as my cousin Reuben acted toward those cows we passed on the car ride home.

When she wrote this piece, Simone Britto was a senior in high school in the San Francisco Bay area. At the time, she loved running with her track and cross country teams, reading, writing, and spending time with friends and family.

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