Thursday, October 16, 2008

What's Your Religion?

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.


pseudo intellectual said...

extremely SENSIBLE post. clarity of thought and ideas was both beautiful and impressive. i wish some more people thought like you.

Anonymous said...

Ohh the propagating(i keep thinking of a rose plant) just irratates the fish(trying not swear) out of me. The women I met here(Colorada) are all very religious,aarti twice a day, bhaaajan meetings and fasting 9 times a week..and I dont do any of that crap..
The questions.."kyu nahi karti, bacho ko seekahana(taught) chahiye," blah blah.
Why I dont have idols in my house?

I then found about abt Arya Samajis..that is going to be my answer for the next group of people I meet.

PS:The saree wearing I tried with a silky one and it kept slipping.

Anonymous said...


The Orange Cat said...

I don't think that these suicide bombers, jehadis or Bajrang Dal activists are actually insecure in their own religion: they're just unable to comprehend that you can lead a life without going by what their scriptures say and still be happy. Ultimately, the persons who've engineered such pogroms- whether it be ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, the Holocaust or the mass murder of Christians back home- can never claim to be key to a higher benevolent power. They are punch drunk on their own power, they don't give a damn who loves or dies as long as they can be satisfied.

Sue said...

Pseudo -- I wish the people who thought like me -- god knows there are plenty -- spoke up more.

Asaan -- Somehow, this year I'm being a very Zen mother. Whatever I don't like being asked, I respond to it with, "Oh I don't believe in that and I don't want to push all this on my son either." Said with a nice smile.

Sue said...

Asaan -- The saree I showed was a silk but it was one of those rough textured silks. Try an unstarched cotton, if you have one, or a tussar. And then send me the photo!

Rohan -- If you are so secure in your religion you wouldn't feel the need to make everybody believe what you do, because it would content you entirely just to know that you believe in it. I have always believed that crusaders have some basic dilemmas which they seek to mask by fighting.

First Rain said...

Ok, first let me start by saying that my respect for you just went up like ten fold.

In this world that happends to be very adept at finger-pointing, I have found very few people who are sane enough to listen to the idea of a personal religion. Yes, I do believe that a person's religion is their own business and they should keep it to themselves, only sharing it on mutual consent.

Since I do not force on anybody what I believe in, I do not want anybody else to force their beliefs on me. Nobody else has a right to know, defend, preach or make mayhem for what I believe in.

Thank you for writing this.


Rohini said...

This whole conversionary zeal is so out of place with today's times. So what if someone believes differently from you? Why can't you just live with it? And how does that lessen the worth of what you believe? It's almost as bad as picking a fight with someone because their favourite colour is blue, while yours is yellow.

Sue said...

First Rain -- Thanks. :) Now go and spread the word: do a post of your own (and tell me when it's up.)

Ro -- That's a good simile, actually. It's exactly like that. I might love turquoise and want to spread it through my entire lifestyle all my life but it's stupid to want the rest of the world to go turquoise as well. Thanks, I love the way you've put it.

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

I am giving you a standing ovation Sue! This post has conveyed so beautifully the emotions that I feel towards my religion and all the 'acts of faith' that are being carried out in its name! More power to you and your pen!

D said...

Exactly my sentiments Sue. Even though I belong to "majority community" in this country, my religion is such a private thing I do not want to take it into the public sphere, least of all the political sphere!

sher khan said...

very very well-written. i particularly liked ur last line-:if you need to b urn a church thats your outlook but dont justify it by telling me you are doing it for me" this is so true for all religious fanatics, the argument that its all being done for the greater good.
excellent piece and wish there were more people like you and that writings like these will slowly bore sense into such people. Keep up the faith! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Yes, they are insecure - these militants, and they find it easy to vent their frustrations on others "who are not like us". I wish we could do something much more than blog about it.

Mama - Mia said...

a brilliant brilliant post Sue!

indeed religion is nothing but a personal thing! you respect mine, and even if you dont, i wont bother about yours!

M's mom believes in rings shings too. but then its between her and the son and i dont interfere! just because i have no superstitions, i dont stop him from doing his bit! i dont even notice the rings actually!

but yes, when it comes to my son, i will draw the line.

i dont do puja etc! i think i have a different equation with god which doesnt need rituals. so when people ask me why, i justs ay thats me!

when did it become rituals = religion / faith?!

yet again Sue, hope this kinda post knocks some sense into some people!



Subhashree said...

Exactly. If you are so secured in your beliefs and religion, why force others to see your pov? I think it ridiculous and quite beastly to put down other religions to make one's own religion all the more superior. And kill and rape innocent ppl in the name of God, this cannot go cheaper than that.

Mona said...

you said it, sue.

DotThoughts said...

great post Sue! I think religion in terrorists is incidental. It's political more than anything else.

dipali said...

Great post, Sue. My thoughts exactly:)

Sue said...

M4 -- Thanks.

D -- Exactly. It's a personal way of life, not for some illiterate or semi-literate yahoos to take decisions on.

She Khan -- The greater part of India, I would like to think, consists of people like me whose thinking doesn't differ much from my views stated here. But not everybody stands up for those beliefs.

Ritu -- On a daily basis I do try to not look away when things happen in front of me. But I know that's not doing much.

Abha -- Nah, Abs, it's being read by people like you and me. Who are already clear on where they stand. Ritu is right, there must be more we could do.

Subha -- Exactly, cheap is the word for it. It is, for instance, easier to brandish a weapon as a part of a mob than to work your mind around your insecurities about other communities.

Mon -- You know, I think it's time I did a follow up on that Muslim marriage post.

Dottie -- Yes, because the religion doesn't bother them until the balance of jobs/votes/political clout has shifted. Or they've been told that it's been shifted.

Dipali -- Thank you.