Monday, May 5, 2008

"Can I be a Hindu too, Mommy?"

A Sepia Mutiny post highlighting the reactions of a particular religious group to the movie The Love Guru has evolved into an interesting discussion -- as I see it -- on spiritual origins and religious ownership of free-flowing thoughts and ideas.

A commenter suggests:

The real problem is when people trying to create boundaries, man made religious laws to trap or confine concepts which are universal and infinite...
Apparently this business of creating boundaries starts very early in life. Coming back from a dinner party recently, my 5-year-old asked if she can be a Hindu, like her friend 'X'. "What is a Christian? And why did ('X') say I could not join her in her game because I am a Christian and she is a Hindu?" So Sunday afternoon was spent in an impromptu crash course on major world religions. The course was distilled to appeal to little girls -- aged 4 and 5 -- who have spent roughly equal amounts of time on occasional temple and church visits but not enough overall time within the larger spheres of spiritual contemplation or religious claims-to-fame. The spurned-at-the-game daughter showed undisguised relief that Mommy seemed to know what went momentarily wrong between her and her much-loved friend. Not much else was needed for her general cheer to descend upon her once again.

As for me, I am reasonable enough to understand that kids, in anticipation of their roles and niches as adults, indulge in power games and activities that push boundaries and test social hierarchies. If it wasn't a 'religious otherness' label, some other characteristic, such as the shade of skin color, length of hair, gender of being or shape of nose, would have sent a seemingly submissive child to the sidelines. Yet I am unreasonable enough to feel irked that there is at least one adult in our circle of acquaintances who felt free to slap an unwarranted label on my child's forehead within the privacy of their homes. Neither the child's potential preference nor her parents' (lack of) preference was given any consideration.

Epilogue: In anticipation of similar, future sidelining attempts, our girls have learnt to declare that they are strictly forbidden to choose a religious team until the day they each blow out 50 birthday candles. In case of extreme and dire situations, they will describe themselves as Krishtians.


bess said...

Yet I am unreasonable enough to feel irked that there is at least one adult in our circle of acquaintances who felt free to slap an unwarranted label on my child's forehead within the privacy of their homes.
I say irked for good reason. This adult has put limitations on the thinking of their own child and thus made difficult the friendship with your daughter and anyone else who gets the label of "other otherness" slapped on her forehead.
they will describe themselves as Krishtians
Brilliant, Malathi! A perfect amalgamation.

Anonymous said...

Your post resonated with me. I too am a HIndu married to a Christian, and there's some ambiguity (welcome, and quite open-minded I would say) regarding what my daughter considers herself. At Easter mass this year, my daughter whispered to me that she and her dad are Christians, while I was a Hindu. Then 5 mins later she came back to ask if she could be Hindu again with me? So yeah, I'm sure there's going to be a lot of identity negotiation going for her through out her life.

dr saurabh bhatia said...

I am sorry to know Pi didn't get shortlisted. Out of this list i have read only rushdie.
So even i can't profess an informed choice, but i somehow place midnite's children on a higher keel than Pi, considering perhaps, that both are of different genre altogether.
P.S. having said that for the record, i'd also say that reading rushdie was an effort; reading martel a pleasure.
"The six shortlisted books, chosen from the list of 41 Booker Prize and Man Booker Prize winners, are:

Pat Barker's The Ghost Road (1995, Viking; paperback Penguin)

Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda (1988, Faber & Faber; paperback Faber)

JM Coetzee's Disgrace (1999, Secker & Warburg; paperback Vintage)

JG Farrell's The Seige of Krishnapur (1973, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, paperback Phoenix)

Nadine Gordimer's The Conservationist (1974, Cape; paperback Bloomsbury)

Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981, Cape; paperback Vintage) "

Malathi said...

Yes, I sort of anticipated Pi not making it to the shortlist—it is a unique style and storyline (very appealing to animal/science buffs like me, I suppose) but doesn’t have much to offer by way of socio-political commentary to the average book-reader (despite the very funny takes on religions, in my opinion). Moreover, the storyline was openly borrowed from a 1970s book about a Jewish family in Brazil running a zoo during the times of the holocaust—Yann Martel acknowledges this fact in his book through the dedication section. Yet there was some buzz about plagiarism after the book won the booker that year and it stopped only when Moacyr Scliar (the other author) decided not to take legal actions. So given all of these I braced myself for the possibility that the book that means so much to me personally (perhaps also because it is one of the few books in the world set in Pondicherry and has Tamil words and foods among all the other previous points I mentioned) may not mean much to the rest of the reading world.

I’ve read ‘Disgrace’ and ‘Midnight’s children’ and only half of ‘Conservationist.’ I rarely leave a book incompletely read, but ‘Conservationist’ gets that honor. It was a sociopolitical commentary of course but so lacking in narrative style (All substance and no style). I will be happy if ‘Disgrace’ wins and will be a little tired and annoyed if ‘Midnight’s children’ wins as it has already received the booker of bookers at the 25th anniversary.

Having given all those opinions, I don’t feel right as I have not read the 3 remaining books yet. Maybe there is still time to set that right…

Thank you, Bess and anon, for voicing your support for my feelings.

Bottlecan said...

I feel you are creating unnecessary confusions. If the child herself is a christian then what is the harm when someone identifies her as one?

A child should not be subjected to complex identities at this young age.

In most cultures around the world, the child takes the fathers last name, religion and culture. This is the system else there will be total confusion.

Anonymous said...

On your blog, I clicked on the link with spirituality and what I saw was an experience of discrimination due to her Christian faith. That was a surprising revelation of spirituality for me.

Wondering if you ever thought of reverse experience meted out to Hindu in Christian dominated scene, both in the US and India (Yes, I have seen both).

Don't let your inherent prejudice dictate the experience of "spirituality " on this site and become a subtle anti-Hindu tirade. Show a broad mind, you can do better.

You with your FB posts etc. you seem at best to be an atheist and at worst self-loathing Hindu/Indian.