Religion and its Aftermath

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When I was at school, probably in the 7th standard, applying for public examination hall tickets was a big deal! Applicants’ information had to be precise….’cuz if we screwed it up…the repercussions were endless visits to the board of secondary school offices. Most of my teachers always made sure that I got my name right, every year a new teacher… weird isn’t it? Now, why would I get my name wrong? But my teachers were a little skeptical basically because I had a Hindu first name and a Muslim surname…since my mother is a Hindu and my father a Muslim. Most teachers did not even know if such a name existed…what it meant.  But, never before in my life did I feel like I was different to others…like I was not normal…probably a little ashamed as well…especially when it came to filling the section which asked which religion I belonged to…do I tick Hinduism or Islam? I used to hate that part and still do. My friends never had any such problems and I did not want to ask my teachers for advise or suggestions since it meant telling them my life story which in turn gave me unduly attention.

My parents never brought me up a ‘certain way’. They are not religious people and I grew up speaking Telugu (my mother tongue), applied bindi and went to Temples occasionally with friends. My mother remained a Hindu; she wore her Mangalsutra and bindis too. So my brother and I basically were ‘non-religious’. My father rarely goes to the mosque and most people get a shock of their lives when they come to know he is a Muslim. He is a Hyderabadi but speaks fluent Telugu and that confuses people a lot.

If once I was a little embarrassed that I did not have a sense of belonging towards any religion, I have grown up to be a person proud of my heritage. My aversion with religion started with the demolition of Babri Masjid and the riots that followed. We were living in Hyderabad then and I cannot forget the sense of fear in me. Scared to go out and buy food, wondering if anyone would come home and hurt my family…wondering if my mom could be hurt if Muslims came home or if my dad could get hurt if Hindus came home. There was curfew in the city and the tension was high. A local cable TV network continuously broadcasted images of the demolition of the masjid along with Shri Ram’s Devotional songs. The tension was high. My father rushed to the cable TV network’s office and asked him not to show scenes that could easily instigate people. But the operator was adamant and continued to show the pictures. My father did not have any other option but to confiscate his equipment and bring it home. That night remains one of my scariest nights’ till date. I was sure that some religious fanatics would come home and definitely hurt my dad….but it went without any incident. My father’s relatives who live in the ‘Old City’ of Hyderabad had some horrific tales of violence to share with us…which only scared me even more.

The riots ended gradually and life came back to normal. Since then, I never found it important to associate myself with any religion.  But for some it is very important and I never really understood why. Why would someone want to associate themselves to something that is so violent, something that is only used to kill and increase distance between people.

I believe that my parents symbolize what India is all about. We are ‘supposed’ to be a secular country so when there are inter-religious marriages, it is an institution to look up to and not to be sneered at.

Some tell me that religion is a way of life, a discipline….but these words do not have any value for me now. I have only seen people fighting, killing in the name of religion. Religion has only been used to hurt others and not unite people in love and peace. Probably, once upon a time, religion meant discipline, obedience but now it’s been diluted and used when and where possible to satisfy humans selfish needs. It is used only to divide and destroy people’s lives. I believe in God, but I am not ready to believe that different religions have different Gods and that if I pray to one God, the other God(s) will get angry. My God is Universal and I pray for peace everyday.

Weekend Dhamaka and Disappointment!!

I have been feeling so jealous lately!! While browsing through some of the blogs on my blogroll, I happened to ‘bump into’ some very wonderful blogs written by women…just the regular stuff really…about life, love, food, books etc etc. That was what I wanted to do…that was the intention for me to start this blog and  either my adopter gets screwed on a timely basis or I am too lazy to switch on the computer and write.

Well anyways, coming to the events of the last weekend….it was ROCKING!!! I was off the Shef for the weekend and it was also the weekend when the cultural evening of the Uni of Shef was being held. I studied for my undergraduate course there and I simply love university life. Shef Students Union is one of the best (if not the best) unions’ in UK with students from various walks of life, cultures and religions. It has a very strong student community. The last time I went to the cultural evening was back in 2004 with S before we were married. Four years later, I was back there to get a taste of Uni life…as in the late night partying n stuff 😉

All dressed up, we girls left our place in the cold. I am sure it was freezing temp outside. One of our frnds’ was in the fashion show and the other was dancing for the Indian Society. The job myself and this other frnd was to shout and support the indian society when ever they came on stage; the duty which I gladly obliged :D. The Indian society went onto with the second prize that night for the best performance which I think was totally not worth it! There were other societies like the Srilankan, Tibetan Chinese Society, The Chinese Society, Afro-Carribean Society and the Japanese society who performed exceptionally well. Over the years, I have always watched the Indian Society and the Hindu Students Forum dance for bollywood songs. Apparently, that is what they consider Indian culture to be.

When my parents studied abroad many many years ago, they tell me that Indian students would play traditional instruments like the tabla, veena etc and perform our traditional dances like the Bharatanaytam, Kathakali etc to showcase our culture. Now, showcasing our (Indian) culture means dancing on a couple fo bollywood songs…and that too the likes of Aaja Nachlay and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. As a devout Indian…I will support the society by yelling and jumping in my seat whenever then come on stage…but deep inside my heart, I know I am disappointed about the narrow view of ‘India’ they are showing to the people around them who wouldn’t have been to India atall. The only opinion they will make of India is what what they see in the songs…probably the bright colour of the clothes, the jumps and twists and the bhangra!

After the night came to an end, I told my friends what I thought and they simply said…’this is what sells today…this is what people want to see…and that is what we gave them’. I asked them why the Indian society cannot do more to showcase what comes from the south aswell…like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi or Kathakali. Why does it always have to start and end with Bhangra or the jhatak mataks of a Bollywood song? Why is not the culture of the south shown to the world as much as of the north and they did not have an answer. I am sure some of them thought I was crazy to think of all this after a night of fun and dance. I am sure they wondered why I was thinking about this so seriously…I was just supposed to watch, clap, yell, jump, dance and then leave. But the thoughts still linger with me. Some of our foreign friends who came upto us and to chat said ‘oh…..your bollywood society did really well and we had to tell them that it was actually Indian and not Bollywood’.

I am scared when I think that in 20 years time the only culture India will end up with is the ‘Bollywood Culture’. We have so much more to offer. What will happen to our traditional musicians and classical dancers if we don’t learn to appreciate what they do? Most of them are arleady living in poverty…not having enough food to eat. The youth of India these days has the money to buy a cd of Eminem or Rhianna when they do not even give a second look for a M S Subbalakshmi, Balamurali Krishna or a Zakir Hussain cd. Remember, the names mentioned above were lucky to be recognised by the public and the government alike…but there are many classical musicians, dancers who have equally good talent but are given a ‘blind eye’ by our society.

I don’t blame globalisation for all this. Being a young Indian woman, if I can appreciate what my country has…why cant others?? Where are we going wrong?