It's a question I used to get asked a lot in school. In the conservative South Indian small town where I grew up, to have an unusual name like mine and to not wear a bindi meant a lot of people thought I was Christian. Which in itself was not at all insulting; the mother was a Jesuit convent school product and we'd never been taught to think of Christianity as an inferior religion in any way at all. But it was rather insulting to be hesitantly asked if I knew who Krishna and Ganesh were!
I'm older now and I think I'm a lot surer of who I am and what I want to be. A large part of this reassuring state of being has to do with being comfortable with the religious contradictions in my life. I talk to a lot of non-Hindus and sometimes they find it weird that somebody as level-headed as I would believe that a clay idol comes to life for a few days each year; that it can move me to tears when the goddess goes away; that on Janmashtami I feel a little as though a baby boy entered my house. Sure, it's weird all right. It doesn't make sense to you, but the beauty of it all is, it doesn't have to make sense to you. So long as it makes sense to me -- and it does, funnily enough -- that's all I require from you and me. I'll even let you smile at my religion, so long as you acknowledge its importance to me.
So I really never have been able to understand the reasoning of religious terrorists. Not all the movies, the books, the newspaper articles and the interviews make it easier for me to understand how anybody can truly believe that blowing up buildings, breaking up families, killing people -- directly and indirectly -- how any of this can help people understand your religion or respect it or give homage to it. I have always felt that such people must be very insecure in their own religion. It does take a lot of personal security to feel so comfortable within your own religion that you don't need to convince anybody else to convert. I have Muslim friends, as I've mentioned before. I have a Muslim name, which for me is a big part of my identity. It's my name of love, the one that my mother and husband call me by. I celebrate some Christian festivals, for the fun of it, and sing songs to my son which I suddenly recognise as hymns only while I'm in the middle of a stanza. I'm interested in other religions and I don't mind joining in their festivities at all, especially when it involves singing and dancing and food. And I don't think any of this compromises my Hinduism in the slightest.
I eat beef, you know. I don't really think the cow is a sacred animal. I don't think my God minds this. I think if he wanted me to not eat beef, he wouldn't make me like it. Yes, my religion is very convenient, but bound by the morals and ethics my parents and schools and reading have instilled in me, I do think it's fairly well rounded. And my morals tell me to believe what I like, just as long as I don't force it on other people.
That is not always so easy, though. Vicky's mother is a big believer in rings and stones and amulets and wants him to wear them. I quite dislike them because I think it's an easy way to not take responsibility for your own choices. (Perhaps it's a little like my beef-eating argument but hey, my beef-eating argument doesn't involve heavy jeweller's charges and it involves only me.) Anyway, so she gave V a ring recently and it really upset me. Because I don't want those things in the house. Because I'm really nervous that his mother will try to make Rahul wear some such one day and then all hell will break loose. Because rings and amulets make me nervous.
I fought with V over it for days until we reached a compromise. He could wear it but not in our bed and not near me when possible. I still dislike the ring but I'm trying to live with it.
There are other times when my mother's superstitions put me off and times when we've actually fought over her beliefs. But at the end of the day, unless you are this close to me, and even when you are, I will always respect your right to your own beliefs, so long as they don't tread on mine. Why is this such a difficult line to walk? Why must children of mixed marriages be called mongrels and homosexuals considered godless?
As a Hindu I want to state that I do not need anybody standing up for my religion by attacking any other religions. I propagate my religion by sharing it and what I know of its background with those who want to know. I do not need anybody else to do my work for me, least of all with weapons and by killing or maiming. If you need to burn a church that's your outlook but don't justify it by telling me you are doing it for me.