Saturday, August 12, 2006

American Idol - of a different kind

So I was shortlisting my US holiday photos to upload on my travelogue when I came across a picture of Mom and me taken at the HAT.

As stylo as it sounds, the HAT is actually the 'Hindu American Temple' tucked away in a very green corner of New Jersey. We'd gone there to do a puja for my niece. Now I'm not very keen on going to temples, but I was curious about the HAT, and wanted to see how a temple in America was like. Besides, Mom had bought for me the most gorgeous pastel purple Lucknow churidaar kameez, and I was dying for an occasion to wear it. (She got a similar one for my sis in pink... it felt like we'd been sent back 20 years in time! :P)

So my bro-in-law drove my Mom and me to this tiny temple in the middle of nowhere. Baby Aish was still on house arrest following the doc's orders, and so my sis stayed at home, while the three of us went to the temple.

The HAT was not very impressive from the outside. In fact, it was not even temple-shaped, it looked like just any other building. There was even a payment counter in front of the actual worship area. It looked like a run-down office building. But what I saw inside was really amazing.

The idols were clearly labelled. As my eyes darted from label to label, I realised it was a temple of all gods, unlike most temples I have seen that are for only one god. The priests, although in traditional priest's attire, spoke perfect English. (I wondered if they just changed into jeans and T-shirts after the puja, sat in their cars and drove off homewards.)

There was a refrigerator in a corner, from which the priest took out bottles of milk (about five of which were poured over the idol of Ganesha) to do the puja. I wondered how baffled the person tasked with the duty of buying milk for the temple must be, given the limitless choices of every commodity in US supermarkets. UHT milk, pasterurised milk, full cream milk, homogenised milk, low-fat milk. How does he choose which one to buy?

There was even a music system on top of the refrigerator! The section with the idols was separated from the devotee-seating area with a large red curtain, which were occasionally drawn and pulled following the puja proceedings.

We gave the fruits and flowers (bought from the supermarket, unlike temples in India where you buy them from little shops outside the temples) to the priest and told him we wanted a puja for the baby. When the priest asked, "What is the baby's gotra?" I looked at him, puzzled. Thankfully, before I could blurt out, "Errr... What is a gotra?" my bro-in-law had answered. (My bro-in-law explained to me during the drive back that 'gotra' is a sanskrit word that indicates lineage in the Hindu community, and that many people choose to use their gotra as their surname. Each of the gotras is named after a great ancient rishi, and belonging to a particular gotra generally implies patrilineal descension from that rishi.)

The puja started, and we were asked to sit on the carpet. Now I'm not used to sitting on the floor cross-legged. (I broke my knee a few years ago, and still can't bend it fully for prolonged periods of time.) When I finally got up, I could not feel one of my legs! That freaked me out for a while. :O

As I sat there and looked at the devotees around me, I wondered what each one was praying for. Were they thanking God for something they achieved? Were they asking Him for stuff they had got after praying? Were they praying for someone else? Were they wishing well for the whole world?

And as I thought of all these, I could not help but analyse my own relationship with God. I am not religious. In fact, I think I am confused about my views on religion. I don't want to be religious because I fear that I'd be praying to God just for the sake of praying. I fear that I'd be asking Him for things all the time. I fear that I'd remember Him only when I was in trouble. And that would really piss Him off, wouldn't it?

Recently, a school friend from 8 years ago sent me an sms out of nowhere - "Can you lend me 30000 rupees?" I was quite appalled. I sent a mental reply - "Dude, you haven't bothered to keep in touch with me for 8 years. You have no idea what the hell I am doing. I have no idea where the hell you are. And you sms me when you want a freakin thirty-thousand-rupee loan? What audacity!"

I strongly fear that maybe that's how God would think of me if I were religious.

Mom prays every morning after bathing and every night before she goes to sleep. I asked her once, "Mom, what is it that you pray for? You have everything. What do you ask God for, every single day? Do you have a wish that we're not aware of?" And she said, "You don't always have to pray for something. You could just pray. Prayers are not always to ask Him for things for yourself. I pray to Him to thank Him for giving me what I have, and to ask him to take care of my loved ones, and to wish well for everyone."

I looked at her in awe - pray every day to wish well for everyone? I think only mothers can be as unselfish as to do something like that. I doubt if I'm capable of praying to wish well for everyone every single day. I'm probably too selfish for that. Even though the existence of God is such a wonderful thought - that of someone with super powers up there looking down at us - His children. But maybe I'm the black sheep of His family. And maybe that's why I do not acknowledge Him in the way everyone around me does.

When Baby Aish was hospitalised at the age of 3 days, my hysterical sister called me up and said, "Pray for her, will you? Your wishes always work." I said, "I will wish for her." I couldn't say I'd pray for her, because I was sure that God would've probably given me the thirty-thousand-rupee reply. But I do believe in the human power of truly making a wish for someone. And so maybe my wishes also contributed a tiny bit into the factors that helped little Aish recover.

My bro-in-law is pretty religious, and my sister has become reasonably so too, after marriage. I sat there in the HAT and wondered if Aish would grow up to become religious. What we grow up and eventually do depends a lot on how our parents brought us up. My parents never forced my sister or me to be religious, but in America, where parents of American-born Indian kids are forever worried about their kids losing their traditions, there are many parents who force religion upon their unwilling kids. I guess it gives the parents a sense of security, a safety net against accusations that they did not ensure their kids were brought up 'Indian' enough. Rather than leaving their kids open to the influence of the so called 'lack of values in the evil foreign culture', they attempt to imbibe some values, some religion, some culture in their kids. Of course, whether the kids will ultimately turn out religious is something only time will tell, but the parents can assure themselves that at least they tried.

I saw many of such parents in the HAT too, with kids in tow. As I watched the restless American Indian kids, I wondered how their parents bribed them into coming to the temple. It was then that I noticed something amazing. While the parents sat on the carpet and chanted the shlokas along with the priests, the kids were asked to report directly to the priest. The priest gave one of the kids the prasad to offer to the devotees, while another - a rather tiny one - went around with the teeka, accompanying the priest who had the aarti. One of the kids even went around with a stack of serviettes to offer to the devotees who were having the prasad. Yet another kid was tasked to ring the huge bell, a task that he seemed to take very seriously.

The kids were really involved and obviously enjoying the 'responsibilities' they had been entrusted with. I was quite taken in by this amazing phenomenon.

And suddenly a thought struck me. Perhaps temples in America have become like medical or engineering institutions. Parents pay money and send their kids there to learn things that the parents can't teach them, things that the parents hope will be of much help to the kids in their lives. These parents at the HAT were doing the same. Instead of forcing their restless kids to be religious, they were just paying the temple, and taking the kids there. The rest was handled by the temple. Just as they trusted schoolteachers to be able to engage their children and teach them something, they had placed their trust in the priests. It became the priests' duty to arouse interest about religion in the kids. Of course there is no guarantee but the attempt must be applauded. Many of these kids would probably grow up not only pretty religious themselves, but will probably use the same strategy on their kids.

Catch 'em when they're young. Get them in, give them something fun to do, and get 'em hooked on for life. Pretty cool strategy methinks.

Now that's what I call a HAT-trick.


Anonymous said...

do i get the gold!!!


satish said...

wah!! i am so kool!!

and still this intellegent! (now dont ask for relevance??! you lost the glory to me remember!)


Sakshi said...


Sakshi said...

I can attest that your parents being religious does not make the kids so.. look at me - am an atheist!

adi said...

I am also confused about praying and my relationship with god. I do like going to temple but just cuse its so queit in there. I dont think am religious but still i belive in GOD. Nice post again.

adi said...

And ya according to THE INDIAN PANEL COURT SECTION 420 .. i get BRONZE here. \:d/

satish said...

and this cud be my hat-trick but then, you dont get everything you want everytime.

and you really have made a convincing observation.

as for me, my parents believe in Him is a gud enuf reason to believe in Him.


Anonymous said...

nice post. do you think maybe after marriage you will also steer yourself somewhat towards religion (just like ur sister did)?

saty said...

there is this question :- " Why you talking to God is considered as a prayer..and why when you hear God talking to you it is considered as insanity?"..god should not have anything to do with religion..ekdum personal hona
chahiye!! check this kind of sums up:-

neihal said...

very well written..."Now that's what I call a HAT-trick." too :)
and I am afraid the parents in India might have to resort to a similar trick in future...I hope not...but then it is much better than forcing your children to pray.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said... don't sit cross-legged at home? there is no better way to enjoy a good meal, than to sit on the floor, cross-legged and eat with your hands. :)

but coming to the post, very interesting. i've noticed that the whole tradition/religion funda is pushed to another level here, in the US precisely for the reasons you mentioned. dunno my stand on it- am still divided.

The Inquisitive Akka said...

I am pretty confused about religion too. My mom feels bad about it. We were never very particularly religious. I got married into a very religious family though so I am beginning to re evaluate some of my beliefs.
Oh gotras! Until I got married I didn't know much abt gotras. Once I was told that my gotra would change after I got married I became adamant. "I haven't changed my surname so why should I change my gotra", that's what I tell everyone:) So whenever we go to a temple I tell the priest MY gotra while my mom glares:) Its quite silly actually.

Rishit Jain said...

It will be a pretty long comment if I start on my views on God, religion, nationalism, the upbringing system of human beings, etc. So I'll just refrain the temptation and say, "Informative post."

Nirwa said...

Hmm.. that is an interesting post!

oh, and I don't think God would have given you 30,000 rupees wala reply, because it's only us humans who remember these things, and hence He is God! :-)

Interesting! :)

Sayesha said...

O piyela yeda! Tu kabhi Anonymous banne sign in karta hai kabhi Satish banke! Sona chahiye toh make up your mind first, warna yahan ki ladkiyan cheeeer ke rakh degi tujh bewde ko! :D

True, unless the parents manage to convince their kids somehow. :)

I like going to some temples too. My favourite so far is the Birla temple in Hyderabad. What a beautiful and serene place! :)
ps: Achha baba bronze tera, ab bhangra karna band kar de. :D

//as for me, my parents believe in Him is a gud enuf reason to believe in Him.

Amazing. That didn't seem to work for me though :)

Not really... I think I have passed the stage where another person can influence my views on God. If it has to happen, it will come from myself, and things like marriage will not really play a part.

Ohhh I love that song! I used to sing it in school, without ever feeling religious. Kabir is my all-time favourite. Man, he was WAY ahead of his times! :O

Thanks :)

//but then it is much better than forcing your children to pray.

My thoughts exactly. :)

#Ipanema Gal,
Haan yaar... I broke my knee a few years ago, and I still find it difficult to keep it fully bent for long :(

I'm not gonna change my surname (and gotra) either. That reminds me - I must ask my parents what my gotra is. Would be interesting to know :)

#Rishit Jain,
Arre likhna tha na! Waise bhi apne blog par one-liners hi likhte ho, doosron ke blog par toh long comments post kiya karo :)

//oh, and I don't think God would have given you 30,000 rupees wala reply

Arre how do you know? I know He is supposed to be really kind and stuff, but I felt like I had no right to only remember him when I wanted a wish to be granted. Even though it was about my niece, but it was still MY wish na... very confused :|

The Lonely Traveller said...

Hey Sash.
A very interesting post indeed.
My parents like a lot others want me to go and pray in the Church every week at least once.
I am still not able to understand why this has to become a norm?
Why can't I close my eyes, and pray to God from the comfort of my room? Will he not hear and answer my prayers?
He will! He definitely will.
And from personal experiences, I know that God will never give you the 30000 rupees reply.
I have prayed diligently only when I needed his blessings. But, he still loves me and listens to all of them.
I would like to quote The Bible here :
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

Another quote from the Bible that answers your
" Even though it was about my niece, but it was still MY wish na... very confused :| " query.

"You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."...
And since your motive was right....I can bet my life that he would have listened.

God Bless All!
And like you, it is very difficult for someone to influenece my religious views.

Sumedh said...

Nice post....
Though it's sort of funny you didn't know the meaning of gotras.

Anyway, sorry, haven't been reading up ur blog a's kinda hellishly hectic...

and, btw, did you suddenly leave orkut or what?I just noticed you have disappeared from my friends list...

qsg said...

Hey...sorry to hear about your knee. And your post is dead on - I do think that parents here get more particular about sending their kids to the temples!
I hardly went to the temple in India, but in the US, I go more often!

Anonymous said...

nice post hu..
Belief is something inbuilt it can never be forced upon.But somethings and some events in life make that belief stronger or weaker.But i think its a fact that we all want to believe that somebody is out there who has full powers and is watching us always and would help us or hold us,guide us when we fall.I think we all love to think so.

SID said...

hey nice post. I didn't know about this temple-schooling thing. Seems like the right way to go about things when even the parents dunno much about religion but just want to expose the kids.

Jay said...

Thats interesting .....

Duhita said...

Nice post Sash, hope you figure out someday soon your exact take on religion:) I'm not overly religious but something is there thanks to my parents. Weird but true, I find myself more interested as I get older (but I wont tell my parents that!:). I realise now that prayer doesn't always mean asking but more often thanking the lord especially in times like these. Of course I have my fights with the Lord too but I know something better is in store for me thus the troubles at the moment.

And lastly, I dont want to change my surname either and thats why I have been secretly hoping to meet a joe with the same surname! hahahaha I can't imagine having to sign a cheque with a totally diff name!!!:o

Anonymous said...

I had a very different reason to go to temple(s). There is this b'ful temple here and there is this even more b'ful gals hostel near it. And even prettier gals used to go to the temple every evening... and we used to go to temples just to see them . :-P

Inder said...

hahaha... given the choice, lord ganesha would prefer low-fat milk. or, may be, he would go for full cream milk if he had decided to get the perk out of your 'moti-vational post' :P :P :P

to me, god is a wonderful concept. god is the greatest invention by mankind. god was invented to bring about orderliness among humans. i am a great fan of this concept. 'god' is as much a myth as 'wish' is. if we believe our wishes generates some positive energy and makes something happen, we shall also very well believe that god exists. afterall, billions of humans believe and hope in the existence of god. the belief and hope could create god :)

south indian movies had informed me about 'gotra' ages ago :P

Sudeep said...


lol @ milk types

I did not believe in god until i saw myself in mirror
nahi nahi.. maine nahi bola i read this :D

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

ouch . thats why you don't sit cross-legged? take care.

Ankur Jain said...

Arre! you assumed GOD to be a HE!? You are such a sexist

Sayesha said...

#Lonely Traveller,
Interesting thoughts... but I still dunno... I mean God must have a way of filtering off those who do not deserve the stuff they ask for? :)

//Though it's sort of funny you didn't know the meaning of gotras.

Eeesh! What's funny about that?? You know everything about everything in the world eh?? Huh huh huh? X-(

One more person asks me about Orkut and I will scream. I am only operating my primary account now, and use it solely to keep in touch with cousins and school friends :)

//I hardly went to the temple in India, but in the US, I go more often!

Whoa! I've been to the temple in Singapore twice in 8 years! :O

//But i think its a fact that we all want to believe that somebody is out there who has full powers and is watching us always and would help us or hold us,guide us when we fall.I think we all love to think so.

Yeah, I agree :)

Yeah, it's a good strategy. :)


Yeah... maybe I will maybe I won't... know knows... let's wait and watch :)
ps: Hope you find your Joe soon! :P

Hahahaha! God is watchin' you, dude! :D

Hey... Lord Ganesha won't be happy with what you wrote! :P

//god is the greatest invention by mankind.

Interesting choice of words. :)

Hahaha! Yeah yeah you're a Greek God. Happy now? :D

#Ipanema Gal,
Yup :) I can do it for a while, but after that, it hurts :)

Yeah, whatever.

The Lonely Traveller said...

" I mean God must have a way of filtering off those who do not deserve the stuff they ask for? :)"...
Well, How do you know that you don't deserve what you are asking?
I have never religiously prayed to God before my Dad's accident.
He met with a near fatal accident in Sep'03.
None of the doctors treating him believed that he would survive. (They even refused to operate on him).
And when I prayed to God, I always believe that the will listen to my prayers and do justice.
Faith is all that matters!!!

Let God do the judging and filtering by himself... Let us not do self filtering and eliminating even the possiblilty of being judged by the higher authority.

Hold your Faith.
And God Bless.

strangs said...

Rock on man!! Nice site u have here!! You know some of the most fascinating places I’ve seen when traveling is in India!! India is so cool to an extent, that when u’re there..u see the simplicity of life mixed with modernism, u can’t help feel like it’s heaven!! The safaris, the trekking, wildlife and sooo much more to see there!!

There are tons of travel agents who’ll get u a good deal on travel there!, but my personal recommendation is the site called India travel route..
Try this link below, else u can google it…

but it’s one amazing place!! I totally recommend it!! Especially if ur going around this time, i.e. Aug-Oct, the whether is simply DE-LIGHT-FUL!!!


Sayesha said...

#Lonely Traveller,
Well, thank you :)

No thanks. :|

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