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.