Thursday, April 9, 2009

What will my generation pass over?

The Jewish holiday of Passover began yesterday at sundown. Most of my Jewish friends and colleagues either worked from home or left office early to get home on time for Seder. Our conversation in the past couple of weeks has involved at least five mentions of “Passover.” In fact, this year, a few of my friends organized Seder (with loads of traditional Jewish food) at their place and invited even their extended families. Majority of my Catholic friends have given up that one thing they like for Lent--like complaining, gossiping, eating meat, and drinking alcohol etc. I have to admit that I am quite impressed.

In the same breadth, Holi, one of the biggest Hindu festivals was in the month of March, and a lot of Hindus from my generation didn’t even make simple “halwaa” at home. Few used the most banal, “It’s in the middle of the week,” or “All this rich food is not good for you,” excuse for getting out of observing the holiday. I don’t get it. The same folks drink themselves silly on a weeknight at a bar or clog their arteries with French fries and Buffalo wings, but when it comes to their own festivals, they look for justification. To each their own but be consistent with what you say. Not believing in the holidays is one thing but using the “calorimeter” or “inconvenience factor” are just lame. The cheesecake that you chow down once a week or the wine/beer you drink five nights a week are probably a lot worse than a piece of besan laddoo you audaciously chastise.

People could argue that India has gazillion festivals and every state celebrates its holidays, so it’s hard to keep track. Maybe so. But Holi and Diwali are major Indian festivals, and I see them die every year with my generation. Also, Judaism has several holidays too. How come the young Jewish folks don’t find it arduous to remember?

I grew up in a festive house and celebratory hostels. My mother, an awesome cook, made every Indian holiday special for us, so I can’t imagine ordering in food/ going out to dinner or NOT planning a celebration for the aforementioned festivals. But that’s just my thing. I might be a health freak on other days, but Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, and Rakhi mean that there will be kheer and Puri at home, if not more. My own friends and acquaintances have expressed their surprise over my elaborate holiday indulgence. I guess living away from India just makes me clingier to my traditions. For me, it’s a way of thanking the universe for ending another year on a reasonable note. Back home, whether you wanted it or not, you would know that it’s a big holiday—with the blaring music and the energy. But in NYC, unless there is merriment going on at home, a festival would be just another ordinary weekday.

With age, a significant number of my Christian and Jewish friends (the non-anal types) have expressed their desire to get more involved with their religion. As and when they decide to have a family, they would like their kids to have a sense of religion and pedigree. My Christian friends have social circles at church. But I see my Hindu friends and relatives drift away from their faith. Amongst younger Hindus, it’s cool to be an atheist. “I go to the temple to eat dosa,” is a very acceptable notion.

Having said all that, I think I am beginning to understand why some of the Hindus from my generation aren’t as willingly involved as their peers from other religions. In Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, depending on your personality, upbringing, and belief system, you have different kinds of levels of faith you could belong to. Unlike Hinduism, it’s not a macro approach. So, a pork-eating Jew could be a part of the Reformist Synagogue while a Sabbath-keeping-Kosher-following Jew could go to an Orthodox Synagogue. They both follow Judaism but in their own personalized style. Tailored places of worship make sense to me.

I, for one, am anything but an atheist. I love going to “some” temples—the ones where I don’t have to deal with the “I-know-it-all-corrupt-pundits.” I personally don’t need a mediator, and I don’t care about a human telling me how to “think” and “feel” about God. The concept of making friends at Hindu temples isn’t prevalent because you have people from extreme mindsets pray under the same roof. For instance, if I have to sit and pray next to a person who is intolerant towards a Muslim, I won’t. If I have to listen to a fool urging me to fast four days in a week or else bad karma won’t leave my side, I mentally check myself out. I imagine a lot of my peers feel the same way. I believe there should be separate physical temples depending on your belief system—the way it is in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

For instance, I’d like to go to a mandir that doesn’t promote Hindu fundamentalists; doesn’t tell me that I am inferior as a woman; doesn’t rely on fear tactics to get donation out of me. If such a place existed, I would probably go more often instead of making the temple a convenient brunch stop every once in a while. Unless something drastic is done, I can see the Hindus from my generation won’t have much to pass over.

More until next time.

Copyright © 04.09.2009

“Religion is the fashionable substitute for belief”
- Oscar Wilde


bc said...

Very well conceived.

From Venus said...

Good one...

“I go to the temple to eat dosa,” is a very acceptable notion.

Don't I know a few of those types ;-)

The way I see it, there is no sense of community that a Hindu temple in the US fosters, unless you're part of a more conventional group. At least, no group that I have found myself relating to.

Maybe we need to start a 'Young Hindu' group with a twist of pragmatism and modernity... I hear this is very common in the undergrad circles.

Vizzy said...

very well written.

Anonymous said...

Although I think this post was very well articulated, I don't believe making delicacies on a particular day proves my faith in any religion. One needs to at least loosely follow the broad guidelines every religion outlines, largely urging one to be a better human being. It is pointless to indulge in token gestures on specific days when you disregard the very essence of a religion for the most part. I do agree with the comment on a lacking sense of community, however.

Prabha said...

Very well written and i wonder how you speak out my mind every time?? Well I do go to"certain" temple to eat dosa and yet i do go to volunteer and worship at certain temple too. I might not cook delicacies on festivals but I certainly visit temple on those days and to mark any important occassions in my life. I may not be able to celebrate holi-diwli on weekdays but I do get out and meet my friends and family to celebrate the following weekend. I do not fast even once in a week but I prepare food and volunteer for lunger at temple. I guess I fit well with the Hinduism which is only religion without any hard core rules. Hindus all over India celebrate different festival as it suits them..To Bengalis DurgaPuja is most important while Marathis celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi with pomp. We do not need diffrent temple but all we need is a self-realisation. We do not need to observe festivals or follow religion because others are doing so but because we beleive in what we are.