Sunday, December 21, 2014

Life in America

I am in America now. While here I cannot help comparing my life in India to life here. Which one is better? My heart insists that with all its shortcomings India is better. I suppose with time I may change my opinion if I ever I relocate to America in future. Just as I preferred life in my maternal home to the one I led in Jamshedpur when I first came to the steel city and now swear that no place in the world is as good as Jamshedpur! People tend to adapt but right now I feel ' East or West, India is the best'.

I think I will make a list of what I miss -

I miss the bustle of the morning hours in India. At five in the morning we have morning walkers greeting each other in loud voices -

" Jai Sriram".....

We have a park adjacent to our apartment complex and people of all ages come there for walking, jogging, yoga practice, for chatting with friends, to discuss politics and what not. They stay on till six thirty or seven in the morning only to be replaced by young mothers who have sent their children to school and go to the park for a quick run and also to exchange notes with others of their group. Class tests, excessive home work, a child's illness and the husband's quirks are part of the group discussions that take place simultaneous to those of senior ladies who leave home after sunrise due to gout, arthritis etc. that get affected by the chill morning air.

And then the school vans and auto rickshaws buzzing in and out, the milkman and the domestic helps arriving on the scene. TV programs heard from neighbors' homes with devotional songs playing at full volume and no one seems to object. Sipping my morning coffee from my balcony I don't even have to step out from my house to socialize. Familiar faces, a wave of the hand and a pleasant look that says 'how do you do' is enough to start my day.

In America you wake up to be greeted to deserted roads and an unfamiliar silence. Not a soul in sight one is left wondering whether it is okay to walk down the wooden steps uncertain if the noise would wake up the neighbors.

One went for a morning walk in India, accosting other morning walkers with a nod or a raised hand. On your way back you picked up milk, a packet of bread and fresh vegetables from a local vendor on his way to the market place. You haggle over the price while he outsmarts you by quoting a higher price condescending to give it at a rate that is midway between his and yours. You miss a day and someone or the other enquires after your health and wonders why you were not seen the previous day. Morning walks in the US are different. Known as well as unknown people greet you with a 'hello' and it is evident that they are being polite and you reciprocate. Beyond that they are as wary of you as you are of them. The nearest store is at least one and a half mile away and one has to get past a busy intersection to get there. The traffic baffles you and you prefer to be safe than sorry. Milk, grocery, bread, vegetables and fruits are all bought during the week ends and stored in huge refrigerators. Bargaining?? What's that? Never heard of it in America. The woman at the check out point says 'have a good day' but it is nothing like our roadside vendor who misses us if we took longer than three days to visit the marketplace.

Another thing I miss here is public transport. Anywhere one wishes to go in Jamshedpur we have the choice of taking an auto rickshaw or mini bus. And the town being a small one we reach our destination in a maximum of ten minutes. The rule here is to own a car to be mobile. Each family has two cars land once the child turns 18 she/ he will have a separate car. Now, assuming that we know to drive, isn't it unfair to expect them to have a fourth car for visitors? So we tag along when possible or end up reading books at home most of the time.

And how about the lack of domestic help in America. They are our lifeline in India. Oh, yes we have dishwashers and washing machines in which we can wash a week load of clothes and driers that can dry them up instantly. But at least for me domestic helps are like family. We had Rajamma who worked for me from the time I arrived in Jamshedpur and left us after 22 years. Then Ashok my launderer again an asset who is responsible for starching and ironing my sarees and drycleaning my woolens when winter is over. The clothes are dried out in the sun and ironed without a crease. My interactions  with them help me appreciate their role in our society.

Please don't get me wrong. In an earlier post I had complained that my husband bored me with his opinions on political issues but I seem to miss it now. We usually start our day with it. Reading it on the net isn't the same as hearing him rant and rave over corruption and rising prices of essential commodities.

But I see that all three children of mine have adapted to life in America like fish to water. They don't seem to mind. They want us to relocate and be close to them. I understand their concern and may give in sooner rather than later. But how long it is going to take for me to adapt is to be seen. And to top it I call myself flexible and adaptable till now. I am not sure anymore.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Religion as I see it......

I think my religion is important to me. Not because I think that the religion I was born into is superior or inferior to any other. But because is very accommodative. I can imagine orthodox Hindus giving me cold stares. The caste system having lost the purpose for which it was created, the Hindus belonging to the group that had the benefit of education and the duty of imparting it to others began to consider themselves superior. But would a truly educated and knowledgeable person consider one human being as being superior or inferior to another? How about the group who were given the duty of cleaning up the mess created by others? Are they not the most superior group in that they are making the world a place fit to live in? Were it not for them could the so called educators, protectors and business people lead a comfortable life?

So let us not go by the dictates of the caste system. Let us understand that our religious texts do not differentiate between human beings on the basis of caste, creed or the color of one's skin. It does glorify a person who is true to himself and the society he belongs to. It applauds a person who stands up for one who is subjected to injustice. In fact most Hindu festivals are celebrated to signify that evil forces cannot last for ever. Justice prevails and the negative forces are vanquished. It also means that one need not despair. Bad times will not last forever. It also does not imply that once evil forces are vanquished they're gone forever. The battle between good and evil forces continues and one has to be ever vigilant. It is a reminder that neither good times nor the evil ones last for ever.

I also believe that my religion does not impose strict rules for worship. As a child we had a set of rules. We could not have solid food unless we bathed. The food prepared for the family had to be offered to God before consumption. We had to wash our hands and feet on our return from school before entering the house. In fact children had to take off their school uniforms, put it away to be washed and change before being given snacks to eat. These were hygienic practices and had nothing to do with religion. Religion was brought in to make people follow them. The rules were also meant to bring discipline in one's life and when food was meant to be offered to God one tended be extra careful while preparing it. I for one would suggest that these practices would be good for all people not just Hindus.

Coming back to rules for worship -

As far as I can remember my mother fasted on specific days like ekadasi or restricted herself to a single meal on certain other days. A day was set apart for the God of health and another for the God of wealth. Fasting for the well being of sons and husbands and setting apart special occasions to celebrate the girl child and worshipping her as Durga the goddess of might and valour was also not uncommon. Sisters pray for the welfare of brothers during festivals like Rakhi, Karthik poornima, Makar Sankaranthi and Bhai dooj. So the message one gets is that in a family set up girls as well as boys are important. Fasting and feasting are both important for good health. Every celebration has a significance.

But while during festivals one was treated to special delicacies it is also believed that God could be pleased by offering pure water or a flower or by prostrating or folding one's hand with reverence before starting the day if possible. Even if that was too much it was enough to be good to fellow human beings and kind to animals. Rivers are considered sacred and trees such as Tulasi and Peepal are worshipped. Raw Turmeric is distributed to women during festivals.  All this talk of conserving the ecosystem and preserving the biodiversity on earth has been practiced for ages by our religion by attributing divinity to animals and plants. The cow is worshipped, the snake is found wrapped around Shiva, Durga rides the lion and Meenakshi has a parrot perched on her shoulder. Goddess Lakshmi sits on a lotus, Karthik rides a peacock. Well the list is endless. The ecological pyramid and the food web were understood much later but my religion accords due importance to producers, consumers and scavengers reminding us that ecological balance was possible only when they co-existed.

It is unfortunate that a few have distorted the Hindu way of living to present it out of context. Let us not be put off by them. More than a religion Hinduism is a way of life. It lets a person choose his method of serving humanity. Meditation is considered a way to worship as much as the fanfare associated with temple worship with the blowing of the conch, beating drums and dancing. You could be part of either or neither. You could simply choose to do your duty without expecting rewards. You could rever your parents and your teacher as Gods in human form. No pressure to follow set rituals and no guilt associated when for some reason one is not able to fulfill or practice them.

Is it any wonder that I am comfortable belonging to such a group.