The God to whom I Pray

I am a Hindu. I am Hindu not simply because my parents were Hindus, but because I chose to be one. I was privileged to grow up in various countries and thus various religions. Since my early childhood I had friends who were Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhist but above all were my friends. To me as a child their religion only manifested itself during festivals that each had lots of goodies to eat. Mama use to celebrate all Hindu festivals at home - I came to know later in life that she herself was not into 'rituals' but did it all for her me - and I too had my goodies to share with my friends. Actually it was fun to have friends with diverse faiths. If I had questions, she would answer them. She simply set the stage for the questions to emerge.

Rebellious as I was, I was soon to challenge my religion in my own puerile way. It all began with me wanting to go to church with my friends, or to fast with my Muslim friends. Each time I asked mama, she would smile and tell me to go right ahead but not to do anything that would hurt the other person. So I went to church, and whenI wanted to taste the holy Host, I even found a Priest who agreed that I do so after I 'confessed'. I also fasted during the Ramadan and broke fast with my friends and I cannot remember how many Sabbath meals I shared with my Jewish friends. So I grew up believing that Hinduism was a wow religion as it allowed you to believe in all faiths. And was this not also a religion that gave you so many Gods to chose from! There was no doubt in my mind: I would be a Hindu.

To be being a Hindu, or of any other faith, is a personal matter that is between me and my God, and remains in the confines of my home. So I spent a large part of my life comfortable in the faith I had made mine, interpreting it my way. The first blow I received was when the Babri masjid was destroyed. It did not make sense at all as I had gown up respecting all places of worship, and destroying a House of God was anathema. But I did not feel the need of rejecting my faith.

Religion is a personal matter and should remain so. But as Marx rightly said religion is the opium of the masses and is used by rulers of all hues to make people feel better about the distress they experience. Today it is a political tool that has gone out of hand.

In the name of religion innocent are murdered. In the name of religion political agendas are set. In the name of religion gullible people are duped by so called god men. Come to think of it you can do almost any and everything in the name of religion and get away with it.

The recent conversion issue is again a gimmick that does not make much sense to me.

First of all the word 'Hindu' is according to me a misnomer. Our religion should be known as Vedism as it emanates from the Vedas. I guess one can safely say that once upon a time all humans followed either Vedism or Judaism and all other religions stemmed from these two. Most of the new religions were some from of reaction to the two mother religions.

The recent conversion drama talks of 'home coming'. If this were to be applied to the T,  then everyone should revert to the two mother religions!

What is frightening is that this new avatar of Hinduism is breeding hate, mistrust and suspicion. Let us not forget that most of what we call 'new' religions happened when an existing religion did not meet the aspirations of people. Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism were off shoots of Vedism and Protestantism occurred when Catholicism became too lofty, and what about the Anglican Church that saw the light of day because a King fell in love!

But let us come back to today and all this talk of conversion and home coming and similar nonsense. If ones religion seems unfair as has been the case with Hinduism when it closes its doors to certain class of people, it is quite understandable that you embrace a religion that treats you better. Many conversions in India happened because of this. Then there are those seek to convert you by wooing you. I know of a mother who converted to Christianity because she was promised help for the treatment of her child. She did so after knocking at many doors that refused to open. I remember having been asked to convert to Catholicism way back in the sixties when I attended a convent school. What was offered in exchange was that I would be allowed to jump a class. Being who I am, I was indignant and of course refused vehemently. A year later, when I changed school because of my father's new posting I jumped a class on merit!

Religion is a wonderful tool to manipulate people. Whereas it should be used in the right way, it is far too often used to fulfil personal agendas be they political or self gratifying. This is evident in the on-going inane debate on conversion as well as the plethora of self styled God men that are proliferating everywhere. I wish they would use their power to do good to society.

My father always said that there is no difference between a good Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jew or even an atheist. I wish we preached this indubitable reality. Any religious interpretation that preaches hate cannot be true.

Sadly, the hold religion has on people, particularly simple and illiterate people is monumental and thus it is easy to manipulate them to do anything. The most horrific and recent example of this is the slaying of innocent school children last week in Pakistan. It was done in the name of a God. Many monstrous acts are done in the name of religion.

Maybe it is time that those who proclaim themselves to be guardians of different faiths should introspect and see where it all went astray and take remedial measures. To my mind it is totally absurd to pour milk over images of God in a land where 5000 children die every day of malnutrition. I am sure the same God would feel far better served if the same milk was fed to a hungry child rather than thrown in a drain. There are many such examples but I think I have made my point.

For those of us who have a modicum of intelligence and common sense, it is time to look at our faith and raise a dissenting voice if we feel the need.

As for me, I found my God in the eyes of all the children I have been blessed with. I do not need to seek Him or Her in stone images and places of worship. The God to whom I pray is the one who reaches out to me each and every time I seek help to continue the task given to me as a blessing by this very God.

I remain a Hindu. Does not my faith allow me to give God the image I want, and what better image than the trusting eyes of a little child. She is the God to whom I pray.