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.


tearsndreams said...

This brought tears to my eyes. I think you are doing a great job with her because at her age she understands what most adults don't. God is goodness. I think you gave me an answer I have been searching for all my life.
Have you read 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins. He would surely call what your family is doing with Ruhi in forcing her to learn Arabic and telling her that Allah is the only God, Child Abuse. I didn't know it was a norm in all North Muslim Indian families to force their children to learn Arabic. Another reason to hate religion more.
I myself wouldn't have the courage ever, I would do whatever you are doing..but I think if you are being honest, you should really ask yourself if Ruhi let you down or it was the other way round.

preetischronicle said...

I can understand the sea of emotions you are in right now. I do not think you are screwing up their lives...with time she will understand what was it that you really meant and she will someday thank you for giving her a fresh perspective about God and not tying her to some religion. Dont feel let down. *hugs*

the blogger formerly known as sansmerci said...

pls don regret wat u did! ur explanation of god is nothin less than perfect and thats exactly wat a kid show learn while growin up to become a good human being..ur the best mother anyone can have :)

i kno i ll have the same probs wen i have a kid in the future and want her to be more humanist than a blind religious follower n m gonna get in trbl with my in-laws for the same..ur post in fact scared me a bit...but wat the hell.. i care more about how my child grows up than how m being judged! hats off to u!

Balvinder Singh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AP said...

Why are you doing this to your daughter?! Why can't you all not give her a break from these lessons that she obviously does not want to attened. Give her a break to be a kid. It is all up to you to break free from the orthodox family. I feel so very bad for the poor child to be so confused and helpless.

Inexplicably said...

You mean why am I allowing the Arabic lessons ?

As part of the 'adjustments' we made to fit into each others families, I had agreed that I will not object to religious initiation since that is a big part of my husband's belief set up. Reciprocally he made his own adjustments.

Ruhi hates maths lessons also. But I don't blog about that!

She is a happy dreamer and I cherish and preserve her 'childhood'. What I write here is primarily my own angst.

I know many people who have had inter religious marriages and they grope with similar issues. Not all of them blog about what the feel inside.

Walking out on my husband and his family is not an option for me. I care for my husband and my marriage but I do see your point about asserting myself more.

Sometimes when one feels that the other person is judging them, the good intention of the comment is lost. But I do see your point. In my own light.

Balvinder Singh said...

Gurpreet, i will only say "hats off".

Please keep telling your daughter and all others who understand you that God has many names and goodness is also one of them. God is within us. It is our concience. It is not confined to four walls or pages of some book or idols of clay, metal or stone.

It reminds me of a couplet in urdu:-

"सामने जो है

उसे लोग बुरा कहते है

जिस को देखा ही नहीं

उसको खुदा कहते है "

I won't say much here so i will lead you to read my post written earlier on the similar subject:

Thanks for sharing your experience.

How do we know said...

OMG! That is soo not an enviable situation to be in! If it matters at all, i m VERY proud of you. Ruhi may not understand what you are saying today, but one day, you will remind her and she will understand and smile.. a shy, embarassed smile...

To that day, then!

Sharika Sharma said...

I think we all struggle with the dilemma of explaining "God" or a higher power to our children and your articulation of it seems to be so clear and simple that I wish in a Utopian scenario everyone could be rid of all the labels we attach to religion.

I struggle with my kids identity between Hinduism and Sikhism and explaining the commonalitites to them so they will understand but when I see the unadulterated joy in their eyes when they are at the sarovar at Bangla Sahib or after throwing "samagri" into the havan, I know their hearts will help them find a belief that my words are unable to guide them towards.

Suma said...

Hi there. I stumbled on your blog by accident. I'm gathering you're a sikh woman married into an islamic family. I read your post and a thought occured to me. My mum taught me Kannada (my mother tongue) and south Indian classical music at home in my childhood. She did a splendid job of it. Now in my adulthood, i have thanked my lucky starts so many many times that she took the trouble. Because, my life is so much fuller for it. But here's the thing. Through all of that, religion and God never seemed to figure in the picture. I don't really know how she managed to keep religion out of it, 'coz a lot of the lyrics in Carnatic music are 'religious' in the sense that they reference the traditional gods (Raama, Krishna and so on). So clearly, i was born into a Hindu family, but i'm not at all religious today and never have been. Do you think it is possible to steer your daughter clear of religious issues, get her mind off God and Allah and Sai Baba and temples and the like and simply teach Arabic as a language, a rich and very different medium of communication with i suppose a vast bank of literature ? Can you somehow divorce the two things - Islam and Arabic ? If you could do that, i think she will be eternally grateful to you for the gift of one of her ancestral tongues. She can make up her own mind about Allah and other such things in good time...

the mad momma said...

i'm sorry it got so messy babe. but you know what, our messes (yours and mine) are messes we knew we were getting into. other than this little bit of religionwala drama, we're good. we're fine.

there are plenty of others get into marriage thinking they will do a great job with their kids and still screw them up.

we're making our own rules and the world is changing and we have no precedents to follow. so its bound to be tough. on the other hand, you've given your kids something not all kids can lay claim to - parents who loved each other beyond such narrow crappy boundaries - literally showing them, that love is above everything, even God


Bubble Catcher said...

My first time here.Please please dont feel guilty about your explanation of God to Ruhi.Coz that is what you believe in and I think it makes perfect sense for your daughter to know the truth as her mother sees it( and not just as the paternal side of the family sees it).As a little girl,Ruhi might be confused about these contrasting opinions now. But as an adult, I am sure she will appreciate and understand these opinions and beliefs.I think you are doing your bit by agreeing to let her father and paternal grandparents initiate her into their faith, but you don't have to feel obliged to not interact with your kids on your own beliefs.