Monday, October 31, 2011

2 Why do we visit temples?

Is it about God? Is it about dressing up? about community? about the journey or about mental peace. As children, we are led to places of worship by devout parents, taught to pray and bask in the glory of god. Its a practice that is initiated and continues till death for many.

For some, a pilgrimage is an outing that they cherish - they have a valid reason to step out, travel, interact with peers - have all the fun that youngsters can have on a road trip - there is nothing wrong with this apart from the fact that all this is done in the guise of religion/god/culture and the same people have a problem when their children do this without these labels.

I like going to temples - but to temples that are not noisy, clean, dont have big queues and make me feel calm - that is my purpose. When I walk into such a place, I feel relaxed and at peace. But each person has a different purpose and reason - Agreed. It can be for meeting like-minded people and building a community. There are definitely good aspects too - such as Annadhana - the donation of food, community activities that give a sense of belonging and entertainment.

The place of God - Where does it stop being about God?

When there is discrimination based on caste, religion, money:
 "Only Hindus are allowed inside this shrine". Oh yes, there are lot of arguments for this - "the others are impure, they dont know our ways, they do not respect our God." In the futility of these statements, where does the Hindu tenet of "All in One. Everything is the Brahman" stand? Why pin point on Hinduism - the case is similar across religions - Will god differentiate between believers and non-believers? Does that mean that everyone who comes to the temple or church are believers?
 Money plays a role in your access to your god: This is across 90% of temples. "Pay Rs 100 and you get express entry", "Pay Rs 1000, and you can personal perform puja to god". How does money make one devotee's time and effort smaller in comparison to another?

Performing rituals to alleviate doshas: So we beleive that chanting some mantras will remove sins - committed in past, now, future - and secure you a happy place on earth. Here is another barter system - do something and you get something else in return. It undermines the belief in self.
  
Animal sacrifice: Prevalent among hoards of temples in the rural areas. Goats, hens are donated to be sacrificed. How can anything Godly have killing in the picture?

Coconut, milk, curd, honey - tasty nature given bounties wasted - I never understand this ritual. During abhishekam these are used to anoint the idol and some of this is collected and distributed as prasad. But most of it gets wasted. Why cant these be given directly to the people in need?

You respect God but dont respect nature: Hordes of devotees throng temples - but what are they devoted to? You will find plastic bags strewn across the roads, empty waste baskets but mounds of garbage at every corner. There is nothing left of the Sanctum sanctorum - people take bath using soaps in natural rivers, throw plastics, banana peels into it, spit and-wash clothes - but one holy dip is supposed to cleanse your soul. Some dips really make you question your beliefs - and one such place is Varanasi. It is weird, scary, holy, dirty. Experience it first-hand and you can vouch for all these adjectives!

I am happy meditating, being alone in the comfort of my home and connecting with myself and peace. This is luxury and a necessity. Going to temple is a nice-to-do thing. Nothing more for me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

0 Fuss over the red dot

"Have you kept a bindi?" - a simple little question that irks me a lot. Not keeping it can signify many things as you will find in this post.

What is it about this red dot that is so commendable that it has to adorn a women's forehead.

A colleague who had been working with me for 2 months suddenly asked on one fine day - Are you a Christian.. a Muslim maybe? I was stupefied by the question ..Of course I am fighting to get married to one;-) but my name prominently emphasizes my Hindu roots. But what made this lady doubtful? She said "You never keep a bindi. So I thought you are not a hindu". Not that I have a problem being categorized into any religion but the fact that this little red dot dominated my identity was worrisome.

Some people advocate that it should be only "maroon" in color because a black bindi will bring ill luck. I have seen that serial ladies (on TV) flaunt all colors - blue, violet, green - some of it looks ugly but nevertheless traditional right. It signifies marriage and the husband's longetivity is threatened by what you keep on your forehead. After all, women are forced to shed their identity after marriage and again forced when the husband dies to metamorphose into "no needs" widow.  And our symbol Bindi does just that - steals identities.

To give an accessory unnecessary importance is nothing new to the great Indian culture - the flowers, the Saree and way its tied, the bangles. I have heard some explanations as to why this is good - "In earlier times, bindi was made from turmeric and other herbs (pure kumkum). When kept between the eyebrows, a bindi warms the nerve/area below it. This nerve contributes to concentration and brain power". Agreed, this might be true. When you press this area you do feel some relief and when you perform yoga too, concentration on this area is emphasized.

But our bindis are different - they are made out of plastic and tiny in shape and even if the above argument is true, our new bindis dont serve the purpose. And what about men - dont they need the intelligence too? Why are they not forced and why does nothing change for them before and post marriage? And pat came a reply from one old lady "Men dont need these symbols. They are more important for a women". 

Any answers please??

Monday, October 24, 2011

7 Being untouchable during periods

A child is considered a "Bundle of joy" (male child?) and "A gift from the divine" but the production process and pain that women have to undergo years for this valuable gift are sins - this refers to Menstruation and its associated untouchability.

This tradition prevails across the hindu society irrespective of class and caste. Seems in Nepal, the practice is more inhumane and rigidly practiced despite human rights groups protesting against the issue.In Tamilnadu (and most other Indian states) when a women reaches maturity, its a sign that she is ready for marriage and should be shown to the world. The girl is considered untouchable for the first 4 to 5 days but after that its celebration time! Arrangements are made in mandapams (halls) and the entire town is invited(especially in the rural areas) - they print invitations and have video and photography sessions! I guess even my marriage wont be that lavish:).

This topic is important enough to be discussed when selecting a mate for marriage in these families. During "ponnu-paakardu" (arranged marriage setting when guy's family comes to scrutinize the girl.. similar to when you go to a pet-store or vegetable market to buy things that suit you). There is usually a discussion among the prospective mother-in-laws, where its assessed whether the bride has been taught to follow the practices. More on these conversations later.

I had revolted against this entire practice at home - I dint want to follow it. Note that I come from a highly educated brahmin family but alas a conservative one. I used to cry all night when they would seclude me   - (seclusion for me meant I slept on the cot+bed and mom on the floor on a mat.. it should be the reverse.. he he for heaven's sake I cant sleep alone!) - still I would make a huge issue. I created a havoc when they said I cannot sit on sofas, have to eat separately, cannot touch anyone, not enter the kitchen, pooja room and a long list of rules. I find it very embarrassing that every person in the family knows when I get my periods and I suddenly become untouchable. In a neighboring apartment, the lady would be isolated in one small room and no one can even see her! She had to live in that cage like an animal and would be given meals when needed. Atleast, my condition was not that bad! So ultimately, my family settled for this - I would not touch dad nor the cooking utensils and pooja items. For anything else I said - Go to hell.. am not following them. Still, every month I get disgusted when I have to share(!!!) the news.

No one tries to understand the reason behind why some traditions are followed. This is especially true when this has to be levied on women - Older women and men force them to fall in line. During the olden days, women did not have sanitary pads nor detergents and antiseptic soaps that would help in hygienic living during periods. They had to use clothes/cotton and live in separate rooms. But one advantage was that they got total rest and could relax - after all in those times, gender-inequality was more prominent - men dint help at home and women had to do all the work.
When I asked my mom for a reason, this is one I got - " Women have bad vibrations during this time and they are weak. These bad vibrations should not interfere with Pooja or other people's vibrations. Their energy will come down". Hmmmm.. wish I was gullible and lame enough to believe this. People go for work, meet women, travel, need to work with women - how will you ever know that you are touching someone with periods? And men have not died when they did this. What is the use of practicing something half-way? - there are no explanations!

Over the years, many families (urban and some rural) have stopped following this but it still prevails. The worst part is these are handed down by women to women and the men folks hardly understand what happens during this phase - but please they want to protect their lives from the bad vibrations - they would not care less if women feel ill-treated or discriminated.

Friday, October 21, 2011

0 Swapping self-esteem for marriage

Typical day at work. After the honking bus journey, it was finally time for breakfast:). Yes I quite look forward to this because I get to meet my adda friends.

I have noticed around me that many of my colleagues are caught in marriage fiasco at this stage. Either its parents not agreeing, arranged marriage tension, relationship problems - everything revolves around the pressure to get married and of course this one is dot on Girls!

My friend and I started our usual conversation - the topic was a common friend (C) who was to deliver in another 2 months.
F: Know what! C was upset today. Her husband is messaging another woman at 2:30 in the night. Seems this has been happening quite often.
M: Really! Is she sure or just doubting unnecessarily? (Dint want to believe it was happening.. wishing it was not happening actually)
F: Nopes.. she has also seen them together multiple times and shes in a fix.

Oh Boy! Another marriage turning sour. C is a nice girl with a lot of common sense and this is what happens to her. Hers is an arranged marriage in the traditional Muslim community. Such girls don't even dare to think of other ways of getting married.
M: Hmmm. But I thought her hubby T was a good person.. thats how she used to portray him.. but a little too attached to the mother.. and great..in their community it might be difficult to prevent this going further too. Why doesn't she tell this to her in-laws?
F: Birds of a feather flock together! His dad had two wives .. and T was from the first marriage. His step-mother would not dare to say anything against this nor his dad.

These conversations are nothing new we have.. its just that here the man should be totally heartless and is making use of religious laws to circumvent the wrong he is doing. It will be difficult for C to walk-out - her child is about to come, and her community will never understand her. For a person who is always put her religious and community views above their personal views, its difficult to come to terms with reality. C is like any of us - born in a great family, good parents, but lacking independence that many of us take for granted. I sometimes wonder how Muslim women (sometimes even other exploited women) reason with life - on gender-bias, on being treated like an object. Wont they envy others who can flaunt their jewelery, clothes (basic necessity for women).

This reminded me of Khaled Hosseini's novel "A Thousand Splendid Suns" - a beautiful book. This portrays Afghan women who lose their self-esteem in their struggle to survive. Ironically, one of the main character's name coincides with T. But in the book, T comes back for his love after several years, but here for my friend its left to real life.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

0 Religious discourses that make you wonder

Every morning, there are these religious lectures on television that pound their way into my ears no matter what. Today was no different - the coarse, methodical voice with some meaningless story. I prefer my mornings to be silent, just observe nature and be calm. Alas! no one listens to me at home especially if it has something to do with religion - I cant say God here because I feel God is lost in religion.  The rituals, fasts, festivals - you think god is interested in any of this..

The early morning discourse goes like this -
Person with namam (traditional white decoration on the forehead for a sect of brahmins) all dressed up in his white dhoti. Lets call him N.
 N: In life, if you have to get selected for a job you need to have qualifications beforehand. But if you have to be selected and loved by God you don't need ant qualifications. Just surrendering to him is enough and once you surrender he will pardon all your sins
I cant make head or tail of this comparison between Job and God! That means I can go kill anyone, slap them right across the face, bully people, do as per my wish and all I have to do is surrender to God. Everything is fine now. Wow.

N carries on with his logic: It is enough if you repeat the name of god everyday.. even telling his stories or telling others that Krishna stole butter from other households - means you are constantly remembering god.
So we do all these rituals, chanting for god to forgive our sins. So its more like a bargain. Religion according to him is a barter system - you offer prayers and God offers peace of mind through forgiving you. What have we reduced the concept of God to?

And N goes on like this each day - he shares small anecdotes from some purana but all with the same theme - you have to remember god, chant his name and everything will be good. He takes the power and intelligence we have been given as humans and replaces it with submission because we are all guilty and scared of our wrong doings. My dad wastes his one precious hour watching this rather than exercise which will do him a world of good. Ultimately when you go to a temple, they pray for good health, for curing their leg pain and back pain. I asked my dad "What use is it that you do take any effort to improve your health, spend that time listening to N and then again ask 'God' to repair you!? If you don't take the effort, then who will? Such questions are met with wide-eyed gestures - "How can you question God?". I feel like telling them that I am questioning their foolishness.

Oh ya.. and my mom has a lot to contribute here. She looks at N and says
"That man is supposed to be a chartered account.. and ohh look at him he is so devoted to God.." This is an indirect accusation at me - means that just because I have taken post graduation and working in a good position does not mean that I can ridicule matters of faith.
I wonder why he wasted his time studying at all! or maybe CA really took the soul out of him:)

Friday, October 14, 2011

0 Marriages that are Skin deep

"Beauty is only skin deep" - That summarizes mosts arranged marriage for me. I know that all these marriages are not bad - but these depend on variations right?

1. Some are love-cum-arranged - an ideal one to some. But I really wonder -- at least in the south this happens only if you belong to the same community. The funny part about some of these marriages is that parents hide the "Love" part from the society and project that they arranged the match. Everyone is happy - isnt it? What is so wrong in conveying that its "Love" .. Oh the society - BS.

2. Some are arranged where the couple gets a lot of time to choose the person, understand him/her , evaluate - this is when there is long time between the "first meeting" and the engagement and a great gap (ard 6 months - year) for the wedding. Parents try to be supportive and can empathize with the child getting married in the Big bad world. So this is the reason we hear about broken engagements - couples realize - Oops! I am taking a wrong step and the child's decision is final.

3. Then there is the typical one: You talk for 3-4 times (that too on the phone, skype!!) and decide "wow.. this is THE person I am going to spend my life with. His parents are nice, our horoscopes match perfectly, good job, education".... wait .. where is the character being evaluated - those 2-3 months before the marriage when everyone behaves their best! In most of these cases, road after the honeymoon phase is rugged.

In most of these cases, life goes on - the lady adjusts and spends her life in the married state with a husband. Notice I say "spend" here - not "share" - its the case with most marriages! Women settle into the safe zone mode and get their happiness seeing children but weighing them down by their expectations- this is a vicious cycle.

4. Some times, whatever be the case, its just pure luck that you end up with the right person and manage to adjust and share your life with him. Ya babes - you are lucky!

I am just talking about the wedding here.. marriage is an life-long endurance which some parents fail to understand. If parents are a little broad-minded, the step 2 arranged marriage might work perfectly - let the child choose. But how many parents really do this - they are scared to let you talk for an year (sometimes even 3 months!) and realize at the end of it that its not going to happen - It is a matter of pride!

We are caught between the "western dating, the fairy tales, the happily married state" and "traditionalist, conservative parents and society" giving us a quite an hybrid mind:) - the above combination are also hybrid arranged marriages. The intertwining of thoughts appears murky on the surface to the society, to parents and to ourselves.
I know there will be comments from people who have taken this path - you are welcome to share your opinions. This is not an argument about Love vs arranged but a situational analysis(what I have seen:-)).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

1 On Dreams that come true

Journey till 2008 had been great. I was quite an intelligent child at school. Took part in events, was good in painting and dance and have given a lot of proud moments to my parents. But seems that is not enough.

Its painful - to see that you have realized one of your dreams but losing out on another. Every girl would have this dream - at least some parts of it. Mine was simple and I was holding on to it like a child holding a kite flying - very dearly. I wanted to fall in love and get married - I can see eyebrows being raised. - Is it really such a big deal? Oh thats so simple... Not at my place, with my parents and their society.

Generally, I was on the lookout - really does love happen when you are monitoring? It dint.  The pressure to go for an arranged marriage was strong once I was done with the course. But so was my fear towards the system. I prepared mentally for the process - yes, love and marriage is a process if its arranged. But that gnawing feeling was growing - I had changed, I had become more of "Me" (people who have transformed will understand this) and less of what other people wanted from me. My parents dint know me but they thought they were the best people to arrange the match.

But suddenly there was this silent knowledge - like gentle waves lapping at my feet - I knew it and was consumed. The dream had come true and but now arose another type of fear. I have heard "Pyaar kiya tho darna Kya" (When you are in love, what is there to fear) as a child but now I understood the meaning. The fear of acceptance, the weight of attachment, the burden of duty - I could feel it all really

I am still on the journey and still trying to reason with parents and society - but its freaking tough.


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