Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One more time.

'How do we know' posted a comment on an old post of mine, congratulating me on how well I had explained the concept of religious differences to Ruhi. Nothing could get more ironical and it touched a raw nerve, stirring me to write about what happened between Ruhi and me last Sunday...

There is a 'Maulwi Sahab' as he is called, who visits our home every weekend to teach Ruhi the Arabic alphabet and other things in that context. In all traditional muslim homes, at least in North India, it is a tradition to familiarize children at a tender age to the Arabic alphabet so that they can read the Koran before they come of age.

Ruhi started at 5 years and Maulwi Sahab would come every day but at the intervention of her school teacher, who felt that she was not being able to cope with 3 languages, the visits were reduced to the weekends.

I play the fence sitter's role since I do not have a strategy as far as my children's religious identity is concerned. As part of a Patriarchal society, I choose to accept that they will be called Muslims though I cringe on the rare occasion where I have had to write 'Muslim' in the school form. I would cringe equally if I had to write 'Sikh' in that space. I don't see them as either.

When the Arabic tuitions began, I took initiative to persuade the unwilling girl to sit and memorize a strange language. I would drag Ruhi from her Sunday morning cartoons to the decorated 'holy' man, who sat scowling at my undignified pajama - T shirt attire. As I understand, I must have a dupatta covering my head and upper torso in order to make an appearance before him. However it cant get more ridiculous to wear a Dupatta over a pajama night suit and then carry a protesting Ruhi over my shoulder to the carpet before him. I learnt to make do with his disapproving scowl.....

After a few months of this irksome Sunday morning routine I realized how brainless it was to force the child to study a language she did not understand without any context. And that I was basically acting on auto pilot, perhaps unknowingly, to gain the approval of a large orthodox family who would be happy to know how much pains I was taking for Ruhi's initiation. Since I had myself taken no great pains to fit in.

I gave up and announced at home, that if the Arabic lessons must continue, its got to be my husband or his folks who would have to make the effort to make Ruhi interested in it. And I was out of it, though the Sunday morning routine continues.

I often lock myself in the bathroom to avoid getting involved, sometimes I am called in to beg and plead with Ruhi. Sometimes when she gets too stubborn I am brought in to bully her into submission. I play my part and keep the peace.

With all this in the background, Ruhi has also been struggling with the concept of God for some time now. Her best friend Rhea has told her that only 'Sai Baba' was the 'real God.

During a weekend day spend at Rhea's house, she visited the Sai Baba Mandir with her family and came back happy and excited. She loved the temple experience was convinced, only Sai Baba was the "real" God!

Ruhi also loves going to the Gurudwara, and since she has a keen ear for music she loves to sit for the 'Kirtan'. From our trip to Amritsar she carried back one of those cheap lockets with a Guru Nanak picture on it and carried it in her school bag for several days referring to him as 'Sai Baba' !

She prays to the clay Ganesh figure she made at school and at other times sings Krishna 'bhajans'. She has a lingering, lovely voice.

I let it all flow till the day she announced to Kirti didi that she was a Muslim.

I realised it was time to introduce the concept of religion to her and more importantly to tell her about 'God' since very soon Maulwi Saheb would explain 'Deen' to her and that Allah was the one and the ONLY God. In her small world, It is a rather ambitious fight amongst Gods for supremacy and I didn't want a winner there !

I told Ruhi what I believe is the truth. That God is Goodness. If we are good, there is God in us. If we are bad, God goes away from within us. That if some people are more Good than others, they are more Godly than the rest and that those who are evil can also become God by driving out the 'Shaitan' in them. That God is not a man or woman or animal. That God is Goodness.

She resisted the idea initially but bought in when I told her that Mohammad, Ram, Nanak, Krishna are considered Gods because they were men who were more good than others. That they were examples of how good man can be.

That Rhea & her other friends had mammas and papas who came from the same backgrounds so such children may not understand or respect differences between people. And like Chinese are different from us and like fair people with golden hair and blue eyes are different from us, each one of us on Earth is different and that we must know and accept our differences.

That her father and I are different and we find our 'Godliness' in different things. So as our daughter she must know and accept more about differences between people, than other children.

"But, Mom who made the Earth ?"

" God made the earth"

"But God is Goodness..."

" But Goodness is also a power ...its energy and it creates..."

" Sometimes I understand but......sometimes I don't understand..."

" Don't worry baby, you will understand...."

And our conversations continue as I struggle to find the right answers.

While Ruhi raises her palms to reads the 'Kalma' when she bows to the 'Granth Sahib' at a Gurudwara and as she put her little clay Ganesh on a 'Janamaz' at home.

And so once again this Sunday as her father pleaded with her to attend her Arabic lesson, she kicked about and shouted, she would not study Arabic any more.

My mother in law who chaperons her Arabic lessons hushed her disapprovingly and I shut my mind to the proceedings thereafter and returned to reading my newspaper. There were noises of a great deal of fuss downstairs and as expected my helpless husband came back with a request to intervene. And as I walked into the room, I paused to listen.

Ruhi was saying to the Maulwi and my mother in law : " There is NO God" .

My mother in law, absolutely shocked by the blasphemy shouted " of course there is God, and he is ALLAH. Who told you there is no God ?"


There was stunned silence at this and strangely enough, I felt a deep surge of shame, guilt, anger and helplessness.

My voice was faltering as I called Ruhi just outside the door and said "Of course there is God"

I asked her to explain what she had just said to her grandmother. Ruhi was angry and irritated and she started screaming "You said God is goodness ? You said he is not man or woman ? So how come now you are saying there is God ? Does he have eyes ? Nose?....."

There were four people in that room with their eyes piercing through me. It is another thing to explain religion and such things to Ruhi in our intimate privacy and quite something else to explain in front of a judgmental Maulwi and a mother in law who has always maintained that my attitude was bad for the children, besides others.

I paused to gather my thoughts and started to explain that of course there is God and he is also called Allah and that he is not a man or woman but a spirit and energy. I pleaded with her to please finish her lesson and we could discuss this later. As children usually do, she noticed my hesitation, faltering and my desperation. She grudgingly sat down to read the 'Quaida' but she looked very sad.

As I turned back to go back to my room, she told her grandmother and the Maulvi. " Mamma is lying in front of you. She told me there is no God. Only Goodness".

Back in my room, I wept bitterly and cursed myself, cursed her and felt vanquished.

For the first time in 8 years I felt they were all justified in saying I'd screw up the kids life. I felt shame like I had never felt before and that Ruhi had let me down. I thought of all the times I must have made my father feel like this.

I made myself miserable for several hours until I resolved to start again, one more time.