Alert – If you are a religious person please STOP, don’t read any further.
A few months back a very close friend of ours invited us for a puja at their place. I got the call while I was at work and happily made my way to their place directly from work, Buzz in tow. Time for puja was set for 6:30 P.M. and we made it by 6:20. Only a lot of other people were still to come. The wait went on till 7:15 and then started the puja.
I know what followed is my fault and I should have planned in advance even when I did not get a lot of notice. But in my defense I was clueless on what was to happen, but I will not pass on the blame. It is mine to take. After having spent her day in daycare Buzz generally comes home hungry. I get her through bath time and the 20 or so minutes it takes me to cook by giving her some fruits and milk as soon as we come home. Even then 7:10 in dinner time.
On this particular day as is her way, especially since she did not get her fruit or milk, Buzz started asking for khaana (food) at her usual time. My friend told me to go get Buzz something to eat from the fridge when another guest at the puja stopped us.
Milk was part of the puja (since it was a Shivji puja) and so was water, fruits were also kept as part of the offering and the prasad made up of some vegetables, puri and halwa. This meant all food groups were covered, which further meant no one could eat till the puja was done.
No matter how much my friend tried to argue, ‘God comes before everyone’ stood firm. Anyways the puja started and went on for an hour. No shortcuts allowed.
For that one complete hour Buzz was heard crying for ‘khaana’ without a break while my friend looked on helplessly and I cursed myself (along with getting really mad) for not having fed Buzz before I came by.
I grew up in a house where prayers, a temple inside the house, pictures or idols of God, or even visiting a temple regularly were not part of life. I was taught to respect beliefs of others no matter the religion but more importantly having a clear conscious as I went about my life was the bigger thing than praying every single day. So I can except that I don’t get the customs that others follow. And as a Mom whose kid was screaming with hunger in this situation, I get that I don’t understand the entire point of marking all food as inconsumable till the puja is done. I somehow got Buzz and myself through that hour, fed Buzz and let things be.
A few days back, another invitation to another puja on another weekday. Having learned my lesson, on my way over I stopped at a grocery store, bought two bananas and some yogurt, feed them to Buzz knowing they would even do as dinner if need be. We got there to have a repeat performance. Wait for people..Puja starts late..A child cries out of hunger..Some lady with same ‘God comes before everyone’. The only difference was the child was a 6 weeks old baby and her mom was going to breastfeed her.
Well the other difference was a super mad me.
You want to deny a 6 weeks old baby.. SIX WEEKS..milk? Really? And this is breast milk.
Oh but milk is milk and milk is part of the puja.
How can they not be part of the puja. That is disrespect to the God.
And you think God will want the baby to go hungry, crying all the while?
Fed up with all the useless argument, my friend and I asked the new mom to step into another room and feed the baby. Turned our back on this lady and started the puja.
I got to hear a lot of snide remarks about having no concept of respect for God, look at the way I came dressed in Jeans and T-shirt, look at how I wore no mangalsutra or sindoor, look this, look that. And this is where I draw the line. I respect your customs and what you do. I don’t comment on things that don’t even make sense to me. Can’t I expect the same curtsy? But more importantly, I do have a practical side which thinks before blindly following when there is a kid screaming from hunger. Or for that matter when you/me/we are harming someone or something as we follow our beliefs. For example I got equally sad and mad when I read this even when most people went about liking it on FB.
I want to know, would God really want a kid to stay hungry in his name. Does wearing so-called ‘suhag ke nishaani’ make you more of a wife? Will polluting and in turn destroying a fragile natural habitat please the Gods or provide moksha to the dead? Is the main reason behind praying not to attain a few minutes of calm in our hectic lives? Were religion and customs not started to show us a way to lead a good life? When did we become so rigid in what have been handed down from one generation to another that we forgot the human aspect of it? When did we forget to use our brains to question right from wrong all in the name of God and will God really be pleased about this?
Again maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe because I don’t pray every day or can’t remember the last time I went to a temple, I should not be the one asking all these questions. All I know is my beliefs stand in stark contrast to a lot of super religious people (and here I am not saying all religious people. I know enough people who are religious but not rigid in their beliefs). And that it does not seem to upset me one bit, even when I am called names. And I would do the exact same thing if there were to be a next time.