“Amma what would you do if I changed my religion?” I asked my mother with hopes of picking on her. It was a lazy Sunday morning and we had just had our routine South Indian signature coffee- the filter coffee. Sitting on a nilkamal chair with legs on the coffee table, my mother’s undivided attention towards the newspaper. My four legged brothers could not distract her with their barking but I could. And I had picked the most controversial topic in any Tamil family- conversion.
Just to give you a background of my family, my grandmother is a devout Hindu and believes that Lord Ganesha is the answer to everything, so much so that she would promise to make kozhukattai (modaks) if India wins any nail biting cricket match. Had she been sitting next to me I would have been taken to a priest and probably end up doing certain rituals to “cleanse my mind and soul”. Luckily, she was busy in the kitchen cleaning the mess I left after a late night snack.
“Do you want to convert?” she asked without a hint of surprise. I had expected her to burst out in anger but she knew better. “What will I do ah? Nothing”. “Nothing?” i asked in disbelief as my plan had gloriously backfired. Calm down Jayanth. The pan is going to get hotter soon enough said my invisible evil side. “Yes, nothing. Do you have any question?” she said as she turned the page. My dogs started running between rooms of our disorganized house. “So you really won’t mind if I become ‘Jameel’ or ‘Jack’ ?” I prodded. “No. I won’t. Do you have anything to talk? Can’t you see I am busy? Stop annoying me and take care of Coffee and Coco”
“And why is that?” I asked. She closed the newspaper and placed it on her lap. The pan was warm now. “It doesn’t really matter whom you choose to follow. I will be by your side at all times. There have been times when you don’t listen to me and most of the time you end up in trouble but I will pick you up and still continue to tell you the right from the wrong. The final decision is in your hand as long as you understand that not all your decision are fruitful.”
“Yes, but religion is my personal choice right? So I have the freedom to convert to Islam or Christianity” I retorted with a touch of constitutional knowledge. “Agreed” she paused to take a breath. “But on what basis do you convert? Is it because you have completely gained knowledge of the Hindu scriptures and that in turn has led you to lose your belief in the religion? Have you understood the nuances of your new faith, why they do what they do?”
“If you truly understood any religion in its grossest form you would abandon all religious identity. Even the tag of being a Hindu!” she exclaimed in a single breath. “Because all religions profess the same message?” I said. “Yes. All of them talk about fasting so you don’t fall prey to your senses. All of them talk about charity so you know what it means to be poor. All of them talk about silence so that you start listening to people and things around you and drop your ego. Now, I did not say this. This is what the scriptures and masters preach at every point of time”.
“I would not mind as long as you remain a true follower of your new found religion and the belief system because that you make you the world’s best person. Religion makes you liberal; it makes you kind and compassionate; it shows you how to respect everyone irrespective of caste, creed, gender, or age. If you aren’t a devoted follower, you are just switching sides on externalities- on what appeals the most to you. Today you are a Brahmin because of birth. Tomorrow you might become a Christian because you think, unlike us Brahmin, all Christians eat meat. Such thought process is dangerous. You will only harm yourself and bring shame to the true principles of religion. Now please let me read” she said rolling her eyes and picking the newspaper.
“What happened Jayanth? Why are you troubling her?” my grandmother shouted from the clean kitchen. What would I do without this family? I smiled and hugged my mother like any proud son would.