Thursday, July 18, 2013

Put the gods in the check-in, please.

If you've read my criticism of Tirupati, you'd chastise and think the worst of this Hindu/ Brahmin/ Shaivite female. But let me give you a reason to think otherwise. Or add to your reprimand of me.

The first time I was packing all of my stuff into big bags was when I was to move to Bangalore where I was to settle after marriage. Mum gave me a packet of cotton wicks and a pouch with silver pooja samaan in it. Now that I think of it, she must have given me those to make some point. One of her two daughters out of three children was moving away to make a world of her own and she had to make sure she was armed with the right things. We did not grow up in a religious environment. But mum did believe in a little havan once in a while, and she never failed to light diyas twice a day. Only when she wouldn't want to break the flow of whatever she was doing (mostly writing/reading for her doctorate), she'd ask us to light it. Nothing was enforced upon us.

The scenario surrounding temple visits is quite laughable. Our apartment shared a wall with a temple. I have seen that temple grow STEADILY. While as a child, I never understood how, I think I have a fair idea now. I don't remember a single day when my mum visited. Her entire life, she has visited only two temples, and they turn out to be her late mother's favorites. Religious festivals at this temple behind our house meant blaring loud speakers, which was a constant point of annoyance during exams. On an occasion or two, Daddy may have gone and cut the electric wires that connected to the sound system.

The second time I was packing my stuff was 2.5 years later, to make a move half way across the world to spend a year in Atlanta in the U.S. By now, my religious sensitivities had expanded a bit to include those of my husband's family's. That meant visiting a temple once in a while. There was a corner in the kitchen cabinet with photo frames of various gods, some vermilion and the requirements needed to light diyas. Only I know the number of times that corner was used...mostly before embarking upon journeys - "Keep the house safe, may we return home safely, may we face no obstacles". My mother-in-law did not enforce upon me a thing and I saw that my husband was quite cool about the whole deal. To carry with me to the U.S., she made sure I packed these gods. Pappa wrapped them in newspaper. Again, that omnipresent packet of wicks from my mum, some small books. Again, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I used those wicks. (There were Indian stores in Atlanta that housed an abundance of anything you'd want for any religious activity. So it turned out no one should have worried, really!)

Within a few months of our return, we booked our first flat and I knew what I wanted from both sets of parents. From my mother, I asked for a set of books of hymns, slokas, the works. From D's mother, I asked for a small wooden mandir to be built when the flat was ready. She was very moved because she had thought of the same thing. By now, I was lighting diyas at least once a day. What was it? Was I finally becoming 'religious'? I think it was my way of asking for help, forgiveness, saying thanks...all-in-one. I must agree, there is a sense of sukoon in lighting diyas. Whenever D's parents came and stayed with us, I made sure to ask mum to light the diya in the morning because I know how much a part of her life it is, this activity.

The third time I found myself packing my stuff was 3 years later when we were moving to Marseille, where we are currently. This time, due to a very limited baggage allowance, I carried only two photo frames of gods, a male and a female (!!). I thought I had carried that packet of cotton wicks, but it turned out I hadn't. Was I fretful and disturbed? No. By now, I had come to realize the ease with which I can come across things to feed my sense of faith. I thought I will, one day, yearn for some religious permanence in daily life. But my photo-framed companions are gathering dust, I am afraid to say.

With no routine to follow and no need to rush through the day, I have observed the seasonal changes. I have seen and experienced smiles and greeting and friendliness in the eyes of strangers. Every evening, depending on how low the fiery ball of fire is in the horizon, any one - and only one - of the thousand windowpanes in this part of the city catches that fierce orange light. There I see the diya...and I pay my respects.

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