Today is Saraswati Pujo. Saraswati-the Goddess of Learning and Enlightment. Years back, at a para pujo, I had an argument with a much-older brother of mine. He is a self-confessed atheist and a rather austere one at that. He hates idol-worship,would have nothing to do with the pujo celebrations at home, would grudgingly accept prasad and bhog when offered(of course you wouldn’t say no to that would you?) and cringe visibly when offered Charannamrito( the exact translation eludes me..something like water with which the idol’s feet have been washed. Charan-amrit). He tried to onvince me that all matters religious were absolute bullshit and one should stick to common sense and logic,even in the face of hardships without crawling back at the feet of divine powers to bail oneself out.
Of course, I was at a much-impressionable age. I agreed to what I heard and till date I do believe in his words.
But this is not to say that I am an atheist. Okay I rephrase. I am an atheist in the sense that I do not believe in the existence of a ‘supreme being’. God to me is not an authority,who shouldn’t be gazed upon lest you crumble in his sheer divinity and power.
I have always had a comfortable relationship with my god. Coming from a family who never really encouraged rites,rituals,pujas to be performed at home,I never got a taste of any ritualistic celebration of my religion-one that I got as a legacy. It was never imposed upon me,never for once was I made to feel the distinction between other religions and to realise that my religion accounts for 80% of my country’s ever-burgeoning population and that makes me superior to other non-Hindu people. My grandmother,unlike all other grandmothers I have known or seen,was more interested in Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe and Byomkesh Bakshi,more involved in bringing up her children and embroiled in bitter fights for ancestral property and against extreme poverty to even think about tutoring her family about religious differences and rites. Pujas were not performed at my father’s home while neighbours came to offer them prasad with a visible sneer. Even when my grandma was a fading old woman,she didn’t show any religious inclination but her eyes sure used to gleam whenever she spotted a good crime fiction or Gregory Peck on tv!
Where as my mother’s family,coming from a business clan were fanatic worshippers of Lakshmi-both literally and figuratively. My maternal grandmother is an exceptionally religious woman and in spite of that her eldest daughter,i.e my mother turned out to be an agnostic. Or too lazy to perform these daily rites,as she explains.
I grew up in an atmosphere of utmost indulgence where matters of religion were conerned.Ours is a cosmopolitan family with many instances of inter-cultural marriages-Sikh,Jain,Muslim,German,American etc. To think I have a German grandmother in those days of purdah and rigid social structures. A certain grandfather of mine had gone to England to study Law like all his contemporaries,consorted with the British,had beef and wine and came back marrying a gora memsahib! It precipated some royal battles and the father threatened to disown him while the bereaved mother and grandmother took recourse to emotional blackmailing. But all fell on deaf ears. And finally they had to accept a firingi daughter-in-law in their folds. I have seen their photos and gone through the yellowed pages of my grandfather’s diary. Newly developed ideas of social and religious equality coupled with a passionate desire to rebel against parental domination fuelled the war.So exhilarating!
So my family never bothered much about my religious inclinations. In fact my mother had once asked me whether I’d like to do puja at home to which I had replied “no no! I can’t have chicken then!”. (memories of puja performances and bland lunches at the other grandma’s house were still fresh). Books,studies,food(the aforementioned chicken at that), movies,travels were given much greater priority at home. Christmas was to be celebrated at St. Pauls with cookies and cakes and occassional clandestine sips of red wine from Baba’s glass while a disapproving mother frowned. Even Eid was observed with shimai(I don’t know this-maybe muesli) from the Muslim uncle’s house.
Such liberal people at home could be epitomes of contradictions at times. Whenever,there was an India-Pakistan match , Baba used to come home grumbling about ‘those Muslims of Metiabruz…’ . Grandma used to recount tales of the unparalleled sufferings and horrors unleashed upon them by Jinnah’s family. Converations leading to loud arguments,used to be peppered with logics like ‘sitting on this comfy chair, you have no idea what we went through when they burnt our houses,raped our women,butchered our families and destroyed us’. Counter-arguments (from me that is) like ‘there can’t be any smoke without fire’ fell on deaf ears as it turned out to be a all-in-all shouting match.
And the very next second it’d be all forgotten as if nothing happened if a very favorite Uncle,albeit a Muslim, came to the house.
I had once argued with my grandma after a heated discussion that Mohd. Rafi is also a Muslim to which she simply replied ” But he is Mohd. Rafi” Now what do you say to a logic like that???
Thus I concluded that if Mohd Rafi can revered,Nuruddin Shah Mohammad from Kashmir(a grandfather. Don’t press for details.My family tree eludes me) can be greeted with utmost joy and fed Bangali bhaat-maacche jhol-rosogolla and Irrfan Pathan can be cheered for,then there’s really no point in such religious bias amongst people.
Does god really need his name to be written with a capital g?or needs to be revered in any particular place?or be fed really smelly bananas and awefully squeashy guavas and be pleased with rants and chants etc?? Celebrations are to be enjoyed with family and friends.not to kill oneself by starving and staying up late.God doesn’t kill.Doesn’t overdo.Doesn’t confuse me.Doesn’t tell me to starve or stop believing on ‘impure’ days.Doesn’t ask me to give up reading superhero novels and watching action movies. It’s more like a happy thought.A belief. And belief is no superstition if it doesn’t inflict harm on anyone.
And I am forever grateful to my grandma who,when asked why she doesn’t do pujas but reads Edgar Allan Poe, replied casually..Oh it’s the all the same..
I am surprised a ‘duh’ didnt follow!
(p.s: My mom’s cooked chicken today. right in front of my maternal grandma’s nose. going by her expression,I believe she;s disowned her by now! 😀 )