Rishi Majumder is blissed with pop philosophy on the city’s church message boards
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Signboard outside St Michael's Church, Mahim

Signboard outside St Michael's Church, Mahim

   In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” reads a large message board posted outside St. Michael’s Church, in the midst of Mahim. Located at a cross-road, this message board is visible to anyone passing by on foot or by car, for the reading. Mahim is a vital link between the suburbs and town, so many people pass this board. St. Michael’s is an old and impressive church, so many read it. The board outside Bombay Baptist Church, Colaba, reads, “Your life either sheds light, or casts a shadow”. The Sacred Heart Church, Andheri, frames its message according to the Christian season of Lent: “In life there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences.” On the same season, St Andrews Church, Bandra has a different take: “Life is hard, after life is harder.”
   These message boards put up by Protestant and Catholic churches alike, transcend religious maxims. While tearing the nation apart is advocated in the name of religion, they uphold the secularity the nation was founded on. While billboards ten times their size sell man products to enhance his value, these dole him essential values for free. “More than a spiritual or religious message, it’s something for personal growth. It’s for those who don’t come into the church. We want to reach out to a wider audience,” explains Father Raphael of St Michael’s. “The media has to report tragedies and accidents but that creates a lot of negativity, so we counter it with positive energy,” says Conrad D’sa, who determines the weekly messages at Sacred Heart Church. Father Savio at St Andrews points out another angle: “Everyone knows about these sayings we’ve put up. But with it staring you in the face day after day, it propels you into action.” Most of these men of God look into quotation books to find their message. Some, like Father Raphael, are helped by suggestions from the people. Some like D’sa maintain their own library so they never fall short. The messages thus vary. There is some pop philosophy thrown in for good measure as well: “When fate hands us lemons, let’s make lemonade.” And there is some pop patriotism worth thinking about too: “My heart bleeds for my nation” (during the riots) and “Choose Wisely” (during elections). There’s self help: “Be yourself. An original is always worth more than a copy.” On Valentine’s Day there was a message calling for friendship, and on 2005 New Year’s Day, post tsunami, a message condoled the victims’ loved ones.
   Pastor Joseph at Bombay Baptist Church says the message board being opposite a bus stop has led to a lot of response: “People have little time to introspect otherwise — this makes them think while waiting.” Father Raphel remembers a woman saying, “I was not on talking terms with my brother for many years. I called him after seeing your message on forgiveness.” D’sa also claims that more “non-Christians have reacted to the messages rather than my own brethren.” One such non-Christian is Anjali Gupta, who during a certain rough, indecisive patch actually took the messages as “a sign I would base my decisions on. And it’s uncanny how each message seemed tailor-cut.” “That’s the thing about a good brief message,” smiles Father Raphael. “Different people understand it differently.” Let’s add to that with an erstwhile message from his own board: “Remember whatever happens, happens for a reason.”

This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:


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