On Religion & Awards
I grew up in a multi-faith environment where both idol worship and Arya Samaj practices were practiced in parallel. I was never asked to pick one over the other. One can say that my views on religion are skewed, but I prefer it that way. I keep it exploratory and will always do so.
This explains why, while we are not actively practicing Hindus, my favorite place of worship is a Gurdwara. And no I am not a Sikh. I have dabbled with the different concepts – faith, karma, and belief, and although I did not anchor in one particular religion or practice, I did find a path forward for myself. I enjoy rituals, I believe in karma, and I don’t pray to ask, but to share, and thank. It’s my way of acknowledging that I am just a doer, and that there is something that holds the strings, and I am thankful for how my actions are supported by this something.
I cannot take the credit and neither the blame for everything that happens in my life. I acknowledge this shapeless formless influence in my life that reminds me that I am just a small speck of stardust in this universe. I am very certain of being constituted of stardust though. That’s the only logical explanation of our existence.
Part of this non traditional way of looking at religion stems from observing my father while he was still alive. He carried the opinion that religion should not be an anchor in your life. If you need an anchor, there is a lot to lean on – like the trust that exists in a society, the sheer nature of humans to help and of course other social anchors like friends and companions.
He participated in all rituals that my mother wanted to practice, with joy and enthusiasm. He never criticized religion. He just did not idolize it. He observed the religious fanatics around him and empathized with them. He even offered them help to discuss their underlying problems. He was amused, but never annoyed.
My father walked that fine line of atheism. My grandparents on the other hand were far more extreme. My grandfather did not even allow a calendar with a picture of a Hindu Deity on it, in his house. As opposed to that my father gave my mother full freedom to explore her faith. I know much my mother appreciated it.
I am not worried about Tara’s disposition on religion. She will find her way, just like I did. She attends a catholic school, observes Diwali and Holi, visits Gurudwara on most special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. She knows I light diya and incense sticks because it gives me joy, and that I like to make feasts on most Indian festivals. At the moment she is an observer, absorbing it. Just like I was, once upon a time.
Just like Tara associates Dussehra and Navratri with food, I associate Diwali with cleaning. I think of Diwali and the smell of Brasso comes alive. The images of all the copper and brass in our house, arranged in the courtyard, come rushing to me. My father used to love to clean them and shine them laboriously. Cleaning his awards, and later mine, was to him what making halwa chole poori is to me.
My father used to have a vast collection of awards he had won for his social efforts through Lions Club. There was always a story associated with each of them. Almost each year he and my Mom would get into an argument about the objective of keeping these collections. They both had a point. After shining these awards, my father would keep them back in a drum, with just enough place for a few of them to be showcased in our small, cramped home. My mom argued on the lines of decluttering, while my father didn’t answer back, just kicked the can down the road to the next year.
He finally did let go of his collection, just before we moved to Delhi. I have vivid memories of some of his shields and plaques. When I won the Western region debate competition in second year, in college, I was awarded a big shield. It was too heavy to carry home. But I did, because I wanted to see my shield next to my father’s remaining few memorabilias. I won several trophies, certificates and shields as part of the school and college level debates and academic achievements, and I preserved them with care. My mother still has some of them preserved, and I smile at them when I go home. Our awards, Papa’s and mine is how I started to call them. It gave me immense joy that I kept his tradition. I know it gave him a lot of joy too.
Last year, as a matter of coincidence, Tara and I got a certificate of achievement in the same week. I came home and pinned our certificates together. As I stepped back and looked at them, I started to cry, realizing how much of him is still a part of me. And acknowledging that I will pass on a lot of him to Tara.