Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Pray tell

"So he's very powerful... he lives on the Moon... and he protects us." Said Xena's friend.

Xena's jaw dropped. So did mine.

We were at a restaurant in a big group and to occupy the kids, I'd asked them to play this random game where each kid gives three clues about something/someone and the other kid has to guess what/who it is.

"I don't know..." Said Xena uncertainly. She looked at me. I didn't know either so we looked at the kid who had given the clues.

"So easy! It's Sai Baba!" She laughed.

Xena looked at me again, but this time accusingly. All she knew about the Moon (she devours the kids' Science magazine I work on) was that it was a natural satellite of the Earth and it didn't have its own light and as far as we know, has no life forms on it. And here was a 7-year-old with very advanced knowledge of a powerful dude who apparently lives on the Moon and protects us.

I blinked and nodded at her. It's code for "It's ok. We will discuss this later at home."

And what would we discuss at home? DFDR. Different Families, Different Rules. We try to talk about our choices vs others families' choices without judgement. Comes in real handy when trying to explain why she doesn't have her own iPad or isn't allowed to watch TV unlike other kids, and why we don't have a car or a helper aunty, and why we don't do puja in our house, etc. etc.

Speaking of puja, we were recently invited to a navratri puja at an Indian neighbour's place. When we reached, the kids were all sitting on the floor cross-legged in front of the idol. Every kid present there attends something known as the Bal Vikas programme. They know all sorts of bhajans and mantras (there was a 2-year-old reciting the Gayatri mantra in the cutest voice ever!). Of course, it was a little weird because Xena was the only one sitting among all the kids, not singing along. She probably sat there wondering why all these kids her age (and younger!) knew all these songs, while she only knew Coke Studio Pakistan songs. In spite of some sympathetic looks, I was neither embarrassed nor proud about that fact. I looked at her, blinked and nodded. The usual routine. "It's ok. We will discuss this later at home."

I was on the phone with Mom later, telling her about how I hardly had to cook that week because of all the navratri pujas happening at neighbour's and friend's places, and adding on to that, the free flow of kanjak food that just kept coming home. I love attending these pujas. They have such a nice, vibrant, colourful atmosphere, yummy food and a chance to meet people I haven't seen in ages, and also encounter some new faces. I love the fact and I take it as an honour that I still get invited to these things, despite the hosts knowing that I'm probably the least religious person they know. For me at least, it's a social gathering more than anything else. And of course, the big pull -- everyone wears saris. (I'd go anywhere if you tell me the dress code is a sari. Sari ke liye sala kuchh bhi karega! #sarinotsorry)

"You should also have a puja and invite them na..." Mom suggested.

"I can't, Mom. You know me."

"I know..." Mom sighed.

Mom has a puja room with idols and photos of multiple gods and goddesses, and prays to them daily. In spite of that, she has not even once tried to force me to pray or do anything religious. I'm just not sure of the gods' existence, but I do respectfully acknowledge that others are. I don't even do the "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual" thingie, for I do not know what that means. Just try to be a good person, is what I tell Xena.

When I was a kid, Mom would sometimes tell me during "tough times" (not sure if I'd get 100/100 in that exam, or that scholarship, etc.), "Pray to God and you will get it." I would look at her indignantly. NO WAY was I going to pray to God (if there is one in the first place!) to ASK for stuff when I'd never even bothered to spare a thought for Him/Her during other times.

"If I were God, I'd be mighty pissed if some kid approaches me only when she wants stuff." I'd tell her, and she'd laugh.

But then, I've always loved following customs and traditions (Need someone to go rangoli for Diwali? I'm there! Some aunty needs mehendi done for karwa chauth? Summon me at once!), but it was always to do with the 'fun' aspect of it, and never the religious one. I loved making the little Lakshmi feet at the entrance to our home with rice flour paste, not because I believed it would bring the goddess of wealth home, but because it looked SO KAYOOOOT! Even now, I selectively follow traditions and customs (let's spring-clean the house for Diwali, but not for prosperity -- for the fact that a spring-cleaned house IS SO NICE!), and once in a while, question myself on my 'na idhar ka na udhar ka' stand on religious festivities.

Sometimes I've been told that as an NRI, I need to make sure I keep Xena in touch with her roots by following Indian traditions and customs. But deep down, I feel like there has to be some meaning to it. As a DAV school product, I was well-versed in many mantras like the Gayatri mantra and the Athaishwarastutiprarthnopasna mantra (yes, that's just the name of the mantra; the mantra itself is about 7386274387642 times longer), but when I think about them, what meaning do they have -- or did they ever have -- in my life? What is their significance that would make it worth it for me to teach Xena all that?

"But you can still just have a puja na... they all have it and invite you." Mom insisted.

"Mom, can you imagine me having a puja at my place? Can you imagine me establishing idols and pictures of various gods and praying to them? Following the proper procedure of doing stuff? I hardly know which finger to use when people offer me haldi-kumkum at these pujas. My leg goes to sleep in 3 seconds if I sit cross-legged on the floor, and then I'm flicking it like a mad person in a sari. If I did a Lakshmi puja, even Lakshmi would be appalled. So many people are doing the pujas properly, faaltu ka why should I irritate Her?"

"Yeah, true..." She agreed.

"Yep, so that's that. I do follow some of the customs and traditions but only the fun ones. Can't really do the serious pujas and stuff..." I said.

"Hmmm. Yes. I know. Haan toh then just have a party." She said, with an air of finality. The total lack of judgement in her voice was palpable.

Attagirl, mommy! Love you to the Earth's natural satellite and back. :)


Arun said...

You are so considerate of Bhagavan's feelings, you are a true bhakta!

(leave the door open for Xena to be what she wants to be).

Sayesha said...

LOL. Well if at all there is a God, someone needs to think from His/Her perspective too. Think about it, how annoyed He/She must be getting at all the loud noises and whining bhaktas... :/

//leave the door open for Xena to be what she wants to be

That's the whole point. But of course, she's too young to understand about choices about this at the moment. So we just try to be as neutral about everything without saying things like that our way is right and the others' way is wrong. Eventually she will be what she will be.

Sowmya said...

I think being a non-believer needs more integrity and strength than being a part-time devotee like me. Whenever am in a tough situation I pray and put the weight of my faith in God to make things right. But non-believers have faith in themselves that things will go their way, which is tougher. Not sure if it makes sense but all am saying is your way needs more self-discipline but probably feels a lot better when things go your way because you had faith in yourself :)

Anyway, I was more interested in knowing how you explained this to Xena and if she repeats your explanations to her friends when they meet in school :) mine repeats pretty much every conversation we have at home to her teachers at school, with no boundaries at all!

Anonymous said...

I'm the same way. I dont like dressing up etc but I do like the tradition and beauty (and the food and smells!) of festivals and miss that aspect. But I dont care for the shlokas and mythological stories, and havent put the kids in the heritage program they have here. I dont even care that they dont know it, they'll learn by themselves later if they're interested or not, it doesnt matter. But it's cool you have code for discuss at home later, I dont think my kids would get that :)

How do we know said...

haan to then just have a party. ... your mom is not your mom for nuffink! She deserves the title! :)

Arun said...

Happy Diwali to you, Xena, Viv and all your family!
Happy Diwali to all the readers here!