Monday, September 10, 2007

Faithless

I come from a slightly peculiar family. Well, we all do in some way or the other, don’t we? But my family is odder than most. We are quite faithless in matters of religion. By Indian standards anyway. There. It’s out in the open now. We don’t flaunt it, but we don’t hide it either. My grandmother, my father, me and thankfully BigGeek. BigGeek is a self confessed agnostic. My folks and me, we are not quite sure. We are definitely not atheists. We are not agnostic. I don’t think we are religious skeptics (though we do harbor a healthy skepticism for all religions) Heck. There is not even a real term for people like us. Because most terms apply to religions of the book, and also because nobody genuinely inquires into mainstream Hindu practices, no matter how antiquated they maybe.

My earliest vivid memories of our unreligious-ness is my grandmother when I was around 3 or so. Bored in the afternoons with nothing to do, I would often ask to bathe and do a pooja of the little idols of Vithoba, Ganpati, Annapoorna and the likes. My grandmother, a semi-retired lawyer who also majored in philosophy, would happily give me a dish with water, kum-kum and flowers and let me ‘play’ with the idols, much to the neighbors’ bewilderment and incomprehension.

Another memory is about my father. A temple was built on an open piece land in front of our house. It was commissioned by an enormously corrupt and crooked builder or a government official. Perhaps he was both. He or a member of his family had escaped the jaws of death and as deities are often known to do, a deity appeared to him in his dreams and ordered a temple be erected. A marble and concrete structure was duly built with all the black money the said builder had amassed. Everything was alright for a while, but the builder thought this was not enough. To show his true piety, he donated a commercial-grade stereo system and humbly requested the temple officials that pious songs be blared from it at dawn and dusk. So at 5:00 am every morning and at 5:00 pm every evening, for two hours, bhajans and aartis rung out of the humongous speakers and could be heard for a mile at least. We could barely hear ourselves speak in our own house. My dad was not amused. He first thought this nonsense would end in a day or two. But when it continued for over a week, he started to complain. How dare he complain, said the temple priests. This was God’s work. Nobody had complained. My father not believing this went to every neighbor’s house and asked if the noise bothered them. They all admitted it did, but would not complain. It was God’s work. My father was furious. He began his solitary battle. Infact his constant complaining peeved so many, that they hounded him one evening and asked him how could a Hindu and a Brahmin at that object to pious bhajans? He didn’t object to bhajans he said. He objected to the decibels at which they were played. As long as the songs could not be heard outside the temple, they could play whatever they wanted. Are you a Hindu, they demanded, medieval-style. My father calmly replied that if blaring songs from a stereo was a necessary condition, he wasn’t. Which of course made our god-fearing, religious neighborhood whisper behind our back and give us strange looks.

Growing up, we never really celebrated festivals in a religious way. No sathyanarayan poojas, not even daily poojas (we did not have a dev-ghar, the mandir) We did feel a little left out sometimes, but kids that age will feel left out for smaller reasons. When we first heard the Satyanarayan Kathas, my brother and I were amused. This was what people were so solemn about? We could not comprehend it. The only time we went to a temple was to admire the sculptural splendors. My father always was the official footwear-watcher at temples. And later after everybody was done with the darshan, he would quietly lead us away and show the magnificent works of art and architecture, the smallest details would not miss his eye – the walls, the pillars and the idol were all equal to him.

And I carry forward their genes and their legacy. I do have a mandir in my house, but that’s because my mother-in-law gave one to us. There is a treadmill in front of it and we do wear shoes while running. When Chip asks me to recite the Ganesh Stotra (again learnt from my mother-in-law) while he is on the potty, I don’t hesitate. This is not a cheap thrill or an act juvenile rebellion. It simply is because I believe that all things are sacred in the same way all things are not.

My grandmother and my father are deeply spiritual people. Philosophical. Extremely well read. Heck, they will give Kant and Nietzsche a run for their money. And I (try to) tread in their footsteps. If you have to question the purpose of a ritual it can be safely eliminated. This is the DotMom’s law. Rituals are defined by people, not the other way round. The questions of the soul cannot be answered by doing poojas following instructions from a CD. If it were that simple we’d all be enlightened. The answers cannot be found by reading Hanuman Chalisa (and the likes) a thousand times each day while the mind drifts to the kitchen, the children, the TV schedule. Meditation is more than sitting lotus-posed in silence. I have found moments of utter clarity and lucidity in the din of the office when I intensely write a complicated piece of code or in the evening listening to Bach while folding laundry while Chip screeches or in my car stuck in traffic, Kishori Amonkar rendering Bhoop on the car stereo. I have been transported to the place, albeit briefly, where all questions are answered, no, they simply cease by reading a great passage from a book or a haiku. This is the everyday religion I follow. No idols required. No dietary restrictions, no complicated paraphernalia, no sartorial fiat. There is no wrong way of doing it and its rewards are endless.

15 comments:

~nm said...

I agree with you to quite some Following or not following a religion should come from your heart. Otherwise it becomes more of a boundation rather than faith.

Good to know you are happy about the way it is and the way you want it. Thats what is most important.

Rohini said...

That sounds a lot like me. What I am confused about is what and how I want to tell my child about God. Any ideas?

DotMom said...

~nm: this is more about mindless rituals than religion itself. rituals warp religion, in my opinion.

rohini: welcome to the band! i don't have any ideas.. will prolly tell Chip all mythological stories, but will leave it up to him to see what he sees in them. And ofcourse give him a steady dose of great literature, great music, great science to balance out :)

Tharini said...

just wanted to let u know that you are tagged. actually, chip is! :)

Kodi's Mom said...

that was a beautiful, powerful post! and althought I starkly differ from you in practice, I have immense respect for how steadfast you are and for the 'religion' that you follow. if you find peace in it, thats all that matters.

and your grandma sounds way too cool!!

ddmom said...

That was a beautiful and intense post. I can relate to a lot of things. My father used to be an agnostic, but somewhere down the line something happened, from that time there has not been a single day he hasn't bowed his head before the idols. My husband is an agnostic.
Me falls into the not sure category. I do not know OR believe the various faces and stories of GOD we have coined, and have no interest in knowing either. But, I pray, I pray every morning and every night before winding up, as I believe there is some power beyond our comprehension which defines and governs us, and it gives me peace in doing so.

sorry to hog your comments space..

Moppet's Mom said...

I'm one of those too. I like to say I believe in God, not religion - but that's a choice I've made for myself. I want Moppet to make her own choice, but I don't quite know how to help her get there.

Anyway, have tagged you on quirks.

noon said...

Lovely post. Strange coincidence. I have been planning to write a post along these lines - not exactly but similar. I have not had time yet. But will do so eventually. And I completely agree with you in what you have said in the last paragraph. I totally relate to it even if I differ in practice.

DotMom said...

Tharini: working on it..

Kodi’s Mom: Thanks.My grandmom, I always suspect came from another galaxy 

Ddmom: There is, isn’t there? No apologies needed for comment space..there’s plenty :P

Moppet’s mom: I face the same question..maybe you can do a post on it? And working on it..

Noon: Thanks! Looking forward to your post on this topic.

Squiggles Mom said...

Oh this sounds so familiar. I believe in a power but not in it's trappings. Yet I do celebrate festivals for the tradition and the fun element. So i guess I'm confused.
I think my MIL is secretly horrified because she goes to the temple everyday.

Usha said...

Most people seem to mistake rituals for religion and as a means of reaching out to God. I feel amused when I see people reciting shlokas without even knowing their meaning and then claiming they pray every day. But then again each unto himself.
I think most of the fights on "your God" and "ourGod" is all based only on the differences in these ritualistic practises.
The trouble is when we unwittingly pass on our beliefs to the kids from a very early age as given and many of them grow up never even questioning the concept and are happy just to carry on what has been handed down.
This is what makes a mockery of faith, God, religion et al.

Mahendra said...

Lovely post, nice writeup. I loved the DotMom's Law! :-)

Thanks for visiting and sharing.

dipali said...

I'm a year or too late here, but I think this is a truly awesome post, Dottie.

eve's lungs said...

This sounds like me Dottie . I believe in a greater presence but am confused as to what it looks like . My mother's family was agnostic, my father suddenly discovered religion in his late forties . Since he passed away at 50 it was a short lived phenomenon! I believe in being good and doing good .
Beautiful powerful post Dottie .

Sue said...

Well written, Dottie.

I have a fear of people who hide behind their religion saying that it does not permit them to do this or that esp when the things they do end up spreading unhappiness. I cannot believe that a religion was create to spread unhappiness, even amongst unbelievers. That's politics, not religion.