Wednesday, October 15, 2008

the fourth R

I filmed the burning of Ravan on Dussera. She came along with her father.

I was not keen on her seeing it, I was not sure how she would take to the idea of burning Ravan, the one who is very knowledgable, the one who does not like Rama and vice versa.That is what I told her all week. But the teachers told her that Ravan was a monster so she was pretty keen to see the last day of the Ram Leela.

The giant Ravan was colourful, and a bit like a large blown up balloon, with tiny spheres as its multiple heads. It did not look remotely human so I was relaxed.

Ram carried a mashaal and set fire to the effigy. The paper structure caught fire and crumbled in a few minutes- read very few minutes. So the burning was not even dramatic.

As we walked back, " Ravan ko jalaya , to Ram ko paani mein dala?
Ram ke saath kya hua?"

I still dont know where that question came from. Maybe she was thinking of Ganpati Visargan. Maybe she was thinking of fire and water as equal and fair ends to the epic characters. Maybe she was thinking of the elements. Who knows what philosphical baggage she carries!

Ram goes home to Ayodhya,that did not impress her too much.

Even since she has been asking questions. Did it hurt when he burned? Why did they have to burn him? Was he really a monster?

I took her to the Durga Puja pandals. More monsters, but I cannot get myself to talk about 'the good' and 'the evil' as absolute truths. I simply can not. We spoke about how powerful Durga is and left it at that.

I took her for the navratri celebrations, and not just for the garba, she wanted to attend the aarti as well.

For a child who does not receive any religious instruction this past fortnight has been intense!

Diwali is coming up and then Christmas. She knows the significance of both. Around Christmas time she will attend the baptism of her little cousin.

She will probably ask what it means and why she is not baptised.

"Ravan ko kyon jalaya?" "Why am I not baptised?"

Questions about perspectives and choices. I hope she will keep these questions coming- and will proably challenge our perspectives and choices soon enough. I know that we, her parents, will push her to ask, I know most of her extended family will encourage her, our community of friends will delight in her queries, but the larger society she lives in?

I fear that the way things are going there is less space to hold onto ambiguous identities.A girl with a persian first name and with access to and rights over two religions. She might rage against, or celebrate the confusion. Unfortunately it will be less about what she thinks, and more about how she is perceived.

I know that if she is not baptised, she technically does not have rights to the church, but her identity IS going to be formed by its presence or absence in her life.

The presence of Hinduism is scarily far more overwhelming. We live in an area which is predominantly hindu. There is not a single festival or puja that she misses because it is all around us.It does not matter that there is no shrine in our house nor any puja that she HAS to attend.It just does not matter how much of a believer I am.

Her building, her street, her school, the media all around us asserts loudly its mainstream hindu identity! It can swallow her up with ease.

If I can muddle up the identity and introduce a hundred perspectives I will be pleased.

If we can ensure that she, by right, lays claim not only to the reigions her parents were born into, but the many others all around, only then can we be sure that she will grow up in a world where people can talk to each other.

"Wow Mumma, ek aur puja hone waali hai?" she pointed excitedly to an RPI poster with Budha on it.The papers paint a depressing and real picture of the country we live in, but I think I can bank on the city and its streets to throw up a million possibilities...

Religion- the fourth R will not define her. The million possibilities will.


the mad momma said...

wow. yes - that is our home too. it isnt just what they see themselves as - but also what they are perceived as. and that is such a scary thought.

Banno said...

These ambiguities are the story of most of our lives. It's been exciting for us, and I know Dhanno hasn't grown up too muddled. She went to all the poojas and garbas too, and she goes off and does traditional Eid with our old neighbors, and learns whatever prayers they teach her. And she looks at my own agnosticism. And she seems to have assimilated it all, and created her own identity.

As for how people percieve her, I worry about it only in terribly low phases. How much did we worry about people percieving us? And we found our own place under the sun.

Our neighborhood, oh yes. I wish they'd do Eid and Christmas too, and all the rest of it. The Evershine complex does that.

Space Bar said...

I actually have another worry: will the kid have an unnecessarily unitary identity? I don't want that! Then it occurs to me that to show him diversity, I have to look really, really hard.

Does it matter said...

When religion goes beyond personal boundaries to being the opium of the masses, there will be challenges thrown up that can boggle up a grown-up mind, leave alone a child.

Why am I not baptised- is just one of the why/how are "we" different from them. Only, for you, the "them" is not really them, because it is anyway one of "us", is it not. Confusion galore.

Why just festivals & baptisms, does it not come up even in the most routine of daily routines - saying grace for example? Is that not a "different" way that raises questions in a young and innocent mind. Also, dress styles probably..

And assume that one does decide to take her to (say) church (or a temple, take your pick), the lack of familiarity - because of it not being a daily routine - makes it so obvious to the 'beleivers' that you don't belong.

You either swim or sink, but can you stay in water without getting the upper torso wet ? The 50-50 approach - would it ever work.

Being agnostic (even atheist) would probably resolve some issues - what you don't know for sure, cannot become a way of life. But try explaining agnosticism (?) to a child. The only truth that she sees is the loud and public celebration of God - any other point of view has no place in the intolerant society that we are today.

Do keep writing your experiences especially on mixed marriages, challenges and, more importantly & if possible, resolutions.. It is something close to heart.


Indian Home Maker said...

Have grown up in an agnostic, anti-rituals, semi arya samaji- exposed-to-all-religions, without any judgment being passed, kind of background.
We were taken to see Ravan burning without too much about who did what, just that one symbolised evil, one good.
And my kids have never seen formal 'Ravan burning' - trying to remember if they have...

wordjunkie said...

A beautiful post. Your post puts into words so many of the issues I worry about as I watch my daughter grow up.

Inexplicably said...

I've been very enthusiastic about taking my kids to watch Ravana burn. To me its a moral science lesson, the victory of good over evil and more importantly a bit of my childhood that I want them to share too. But then its also as indifferent as a foreigner watching a quaint custom since I am neither hindu nor muslim.

My daughter has hated the experience year on year and I have complained that she is a sissy. My 3 year old son saw his first Ravana last year and came back full of sympathy for 'bechara' Ravan. He also insisted that we take Ravana to the hospital and that Ram be punished for being so "mean".

A month after Dussehra, I wore a long black jacket to work. He was delighted to see me and said " Mama aap to bilkul Ravqan lag rahe ho ". That was the ultimate compliment he could think of !

I've love giving my kids a large variety of religious exposure. I had the same in my childhood but the difference here is that my children are technically muslims ! Maybe they will hold it against me when they grow up like some of their family still does.

Was great to read your post. Food for thought for me about my mixed little children.

karmickids said...

Oh Sur, Ive fought the battle and chickened out. The brat will be brought up Hindu. He is free to choose his faith of the soul when he is old enough to realise it. And perhaps forgive his mother for foisting this decision on him.

thelastbyte said...

The fourth "R" - so unnecessary in our three dimensional world. I hope your Sana never feels the need to define herself.

Loved your post. Need to cough up one of my own.

Null Pointer

NainaAshley said...

Loved your post. I Agree with the last byte that the fourth R is unnecessary in our three dimensional world.
For some religion is a part of who they are ...but unless sanah chooses to make it a part of who she is need not be. She's a smart child...she'll figure it out.

Manasa said...

Loved the last line of this post :)

Roma said...

Well said Surabhi! Now if only more of this and the next generation turns out that way, we really will be a peaceful nation.

dipali said...

This is such an amazing post, Sur.
WOW. Just loved it and appreciated what you are doing more and more:)