Monday, 27 June 2016

When Religion became a talking point...

The other day while waiting for Cheeky at the school gates, her class teacher walked up to me.

"We are learning about Hinduism this term. If you can come in and talk to us about being a Hindu, it will be great."

I was a bit sceptical. Really? Although a practising Hindu, was I devout enough to talk about religion and engage a bunch of restless 5-year-olds? 

But while all this was going in my head, all that came out was "OK".

"Great. Our next lesson is on Tuesday. See you in your traditional attire then!" She walked off.

What? Wait, you never told me about turning up in a sari, my head screamed.

But the commitment was made and as I walked back, my brain was working on how best to handle this.

It was easy to see why I was the obvious choice; there were hardly any Hindu families in the school. Religion for us, is more like cultural identity rather than a strict code of conduct. Gosh, I did not even know the the dictates of Hindu religion! Will I be able to tell them enough to satisfy their curiosity and yet educate them?

Later, one night, I was watching Bajirao Mastani an Indian period film about a Hindu Brahmin-warrior and a Muslim princess. The autonomy of religion in that era and its intervention at every point seemed such an alien concept in this day and age. Today we lead a more individualistic lifestyles where religion is woven loosely around the daily fabric of our lives.

My values and practices stem from a default part of growing up in a Hindu household. But what seemed natural and effortless for P and I, is not the case for our kids. Growing up in the West, they do not have the exposure enjoyed by their Indian counterparts. They did not have the default understanding of who and why, we are the way we are. 

Living in an non-Asian community, we were never particular about celebrating festivals when the kids were babies. But then as they grew older, it became obvious they needed Indian cultural education. Cheeky had to understand Christmas and Easter were not the only two occasions to be celebrated. Our Indian festivals spread out across the year, each customised with its own story, food and way of celebration.

 P and I did not want them to miss out on what we had as kids. So began our Diwali and Navaratri festivities. The celebrations are on a very small scale but at least it offers them a sense of their unique cultural identity. 

"Bommai Golu" - Doll Display at our home -
A traditional way of celebrating Navratri in Tamil Brahmin households
So with these thoughts swimming in my head, I turned up at the school on the day - complete with sari, jewellery and bangles. Feeling terribly overdressed, I settled in the chair as the kids looked up to me with dazzling eyes.

As I began, the kids hung onto every word - utterly fascinated by the things I had brought along - a pooja thali (plate), lamp, Bhagwad Geeta book, images of gods and goddesses. They were awestruck by the fact that we had so many Gods and a variety of food options.

The talk was rounded off by a rapid fire Q&A: How can one become a Hindu? Where do you find Hindus generally? Why do you eat with your hands? How does it affect your lifestyle? were some of the googlies that came hurling at me.

I answered them with candour and humour, impressed at their grasp of religion and its concept. The afternoon whizzed by and soon it was time to wind up. Cheeky and I sang some shlokas (bhajans), signalling a musical end to the session.

The next day, the parents stopped by to say their kids came home excited, eager to show off their newly acquired knowledge!

Phew! Not bad for someone who prefers wielding her pen instead of her voice!

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