A sudden case of déjà vu… a spectacle that first bewildered me 20 years ago, when I was a precocious little kid. At the age of seven, you do as you are told, your parents pull in the reins, and in most instances, you are taught to absorb, consume and take heed of things as they seem. I was never taught to be a critical thinker, I was always told that following a particular religious dogma would ensure eternal blessings and that every one of your outlandish dreams would come true through the contrived act of public piety. This was instilled in us not by my parents, but by my Cruella Deville-esqe grandmother who, to put it bluntly, was a sugar-coated, Indian-garbed version of Satan himself.
Back to the spectacle… 20 years later, the temple that my family use to frequent painted a whole different picture. The muddy, clustered car park was still in tact, but gone was the gaudy, rich, colourful splendor that most people associate with Hinduism. Like a swift ton of bricks hitting me head on, I was faced with a scene of poverty. The impoverished brittle faces around me were flocking to these holy grounds, somehow hoodwinked by the fact that the tides of their fortunes would change through a simple act of piety. Shanty-like stalls were set up where worshippers/hawkers sold an array of items from clothing to food and even shampoo. But, despite their obvious struggles, there was a warm sense of community spirit amongst them, they seemed content. I trudged about aimlessly through the muddy holy grounds donning my best corporate attire… Hell, I felt like I was plucked out of the my daily mundane office duties into the twilight zone. I was clearly out-of-place, a fish out of the pond, so to speak. While strolling along, a semi-epiphany occurred and I surmised, “here I am all polished up in fine wear with supposedly a whole lot going for me, but for the life of me, I can’t even fake a smile.” I was consumed by a feeling of unhappiness, devoid of any excrements of joy and a piece of my heart yearned to trade places with those impoverished souls, simply because an air of serenity illuminated from their faces. They seemed content, and not the pretentious type of happiness, but the earnest type. Maybe believing in an unseen higher power did bring them happiness in some mysterious way.
Now to the temple itself, even though I did not enter the ashram another landmark caught my view. The statuette of the Deity Luxmi was still there. That statuette laid fastened in the middle of a pond which was known as a ‘wishing well’ for some unknown reason. I remember that being the highlight of my journey as a kid. That statuette looked colossal and foreboding. I would throw coins aimlessly seeing where it would land. A huge part of me had a deep wish that I wanted to be fulfilled, always uttering in my mind, ‘Dear God, please make my daddy stop drinking.’ I think I’ve lost count of the number of times I had wished or prayed for that to materialise… It never did ’til this day, which is one of the many reasons why I do not believe that there is a God.
Twenty years later, why did that same hulk-like statuette that I saw as a kid look so much smaller and shrunken? The infantile excitement was not there anymore. I was faced with a fleeting feeling of disappointment. The ‘well’ had lost its ethereal flair and I was no longer mesmerised. While taking out this picture of the statuette by sliding my arms through the fence to get my phone at the right angle, the temple-goers looked at me strangely, like I was some Nikon, camera-happy Chinese tourist. Still, I snapped away. It was at that moment that one of my work colleagues suggested that we go pray at that same temple one day. In my mind, I was thinking, ‘hell no, I will never step foot into a place that proudly and unjustifiably practices animal sacrifices.”
Another bone that I have to pick with the fundamentalist Hindus (my grandmother being the Bin Laden of fundamentalist Hindus), is their total lack of compassion. One of the core principles or teachings of Hinduism is to treat every animal with respect and to be kind to them. Mind you, I may seem like a hypocrite seeing as I eat meat but I don’t go around slaughtering animals in some voodoo-like ritualistic manner, thinking that God will bless me more or, believing that it’s a sign of a devout Hindu. I am very critical of Hinduism overall or more the people’s interpretation of the manner in which things are to be done. I remember, my hell-spawn grandmother ordered my parents to slaughter fowls. I remember one fowl that they bought, whom I bonded with. Then we went off to the temple with the fowl. Some prayer was said before the fowl and off my father went to another corner and came back with blood splattered all over his shirt. He wore a sky blue shirt that day and the blood looked crimson in colour against that colour tone. Why had my father been so cruel to hold that poor creature down while some dingy-looking Indian lady wielded a machete that lead to the demise of that fowl. I will never forget that sight or the fact that I started to rebel or question things from an early age. There’s another cruel ritual that is performed either at your home or at the temple where a goat is slaughtered. Again, my voodoo-child grandmother forced the entire family to partake in that ritual. That ritual was not only barbaric and archaic but it also had sexist undertones to it. The women had to sit submissively in a room without leaving during the slaughtering. The men would cook and even eat the goat’s testicles too believing it would increase their masculinity and sexual prowess. I felt like I was living in an era of the Aztecs or the Mayans. Now, as I sit here bewildered thinking about those animal sacrifices, did neither my mom nor dad have the guts to tell my grandmother that they were against it? Did my grandmother have such a dark sinister influence over everyone that no one questioned her? She was like the head of a Mexican drug cartel gang. This is to evoke my indifference towards my religion, or should I say cultural practices? I remember being 13-years-old and the swami told me to tie the my red Luxmi string on my right hand. I was adamant, I wanted it tied on my left, it led to a mini debate with the swami and my mom kept giving me killer looks to shut up. But that’s me, always questioning, always digging deeper, always trying to get a holistic perspective of things.
By the age of 16, I pretty much stopped practising, and took each day as it came. People place so much of emphasis on fasting once, twice, three or four times a week to show that they’re good and disciplined. These same good and disciplined people are guilty of extra-marital affairs, domestic abuse, shoddy business dealings and drug usage. So, who are you fooling? I do wear my red Luxmi string, but why? To me, it symbolizes my identity and it reminds me of my mom who would always tie it for us. So this string will always remain intact irrespective of what my belief system is. I can go on and on about my indifference towards Hinduism and other religious institutions but I’ll save that for another day. Today, I do however want to state that my parents accept me as I am. They will never understand how grateful I am that they allow me, they appreciate and find humour in my unique perspectives. I wish all Indian parents were like mine…