Thursday, January 7, 2010

A look back as we step forward into 2010

Happy New Year to one and all.

As we step into a week old 2010, we are all wondering what we will write on the blank pages of this year. Words often change the direction of our thoughts and this is what I'm hoping to do here. A look back into our roots might help us all make and hold on to our New Year resolutions with the recipe below.

The holidays got me started on a reflective phase, analyzing my experiences with people of different faiths/religions.
Growing up in post British India, Christianity was part of convent school education and we all celebrated Christmas with more emphasis on the religious aspect. We learned and sang carols, took part in Nativity plays if there weren't enough Christian girls to fill the spots,hoped Santa would visit us.
Now more and more people from every faith in America get caught up in the decorating of a tree and exchanging gifts at this time of year. I was four or five, when I had the first experience I can remember of Christmas at the Bangalore Club, India. Santa arrived in a sleigh and we children ran behind the sleigh, well versed in all the carols taught at school. When he finally stopped and handed out gifts our joy knew no bounds. It was years later I discovered my father had pre-paid for the gifts that came from Santa.
What a welcome we received in every Christian home during the season with 'goodies' and home made wine. (The latter unfortunately sent me into such a fit of giggles on one such visit when I was 16, my mother made me promise never 'to drink' as she put it!)

What a grand heritage we had growing up in India, a country that has accepted all religions over the years, and celebrated religious tolerance and respect for all people, as an inherent part of life. Instant acceptance of people made our lives richer. We weren't burdened with the hump of ignorance. People were judged on their action and behavior towards us and society, not on their religion. In today's world, to ensure peace,we need to hold on to this.

Besides Christmas, we took part in all other festivals.
ID meant dishes of Biriyani from our Muslim friends, Diwali meant my mother sending trays of goodies to all the neighbors, Guru Nanak's birthday was celebrated with a visit to the Gurudwara and plenty of the best halwa in the world.
While gastronomically we children rejoiced in these festivals, our mother taught us about the history of each religion. She always had something positive to say about every faith:
"Look at the Muslims," she would say in awe, "Just look at them. 5 times a day they think of God. Let us think of God often too."
"I love the kirtans the Sikhs sing," she would tell us. "How much devotion in those songs...I can listen to them for hours." The same went for Bhajans and Hindu devotional songs which she played on our gramophone at home, religiously re-winding the handle every few minutes.
"Look at the Christians," she would say in admiration. "What discpline they follow, going to church every Sunday."
All this, while every Hindu festival was celebrated at home with great ceremony. Her understanding and acceptance of all faiths did not detract from her being a Hindu in any way. Diwali had us taking trays of sweets,snacks, dosa and chicken curry to every neighbor early in the morning.
During her lifetime my mother read and discussed every religious book she could get, always searching for a connection with God in every Holy Book. Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism...she explored and discussed every faith with us kids.
The first prayer she taught me, sprang from her own convent education. It was,'Our Father Who Art in Heaven',followed by 'Now I lay me down to sleep'!
Any other Hindu girl learn that, not at school, but from her mother at the age of 3?

My father made sure that we learned respect for every religion and how to behave when we accompanied him to different places of worship. As commanding officer, at one station, he said he couldn't lead his men if he didn't share their personal lives with them, so we went with him once a month to the Gurudwara, our heads covered with hankies knotted at the corners, sitting quietly through the kirtans. Church was part of our lives in school, as was learning verses from the Bible and singing hymns every morning.
We never heard criticism of any religion. Bad customs, yes, misguided beliefs yes, but never of the basic good tenets of every faith.
More than anything I thank my parents for giving us children the incomparable legacy of tolerance and understanding and acceptance of the good in every religion.

So now I tell everyone who asks what religion we are, that we practice Hinduism but we are Universalists by belief.
"What are Universalists?" I'm asked.
"Universalists are people who believe that religion follow different paths that leads to one God, no matter what name He is called by: Heavenly Father, Wahe Guru, Allah, The Supreme Brahma. All these roads, were laid out different for people of different languages, customs, areas, by sending them different leaders. They all end at one destination, one God, though our paths are different."
Even now those who grew up in India, know this in their hearts and say it out loud.
I watched an Indian show recently and the young participants respected and acknowledged every faith and every festival as it came up, through the year. I felt proud of my Indian roots. No one felt the need to say theirs was the only way to reach God and non-believers would go to Hell. Religion isn't a team is a personal part of each life...the only way it is another's business is if misguided beliefs result in actions/speech that interfere with our rights.
Don't alienate the people of one faith by basing your opinion of all on what one radical, extremist group is doing, whether it is burning temples, mosques, churches,or fighting wars. Treat people as individuals who have the same feelings you do.

So, this is my first recipe for total well being in 2010: Equal parts of contentment, health, happiness, not wanting from others what you cannot give them in return, freedom from envy, and most important of all... enlightenment which translates into: tolerance and respect for all people/religions as long as their practices don't interfere with anyone's inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Keep a constant supply of these ingredients on hand and use daily.


Tanuja said...

Well said! I also believe that all religions are different paths to the same God- just look at my family- Hindu, Muslim & Catholic!


lan said...

Happy New Year to you Geeta and thanks for this wonderful recipe. The ingredients tell me it is a keeper!

lan said...

Geeta, hope all is well with you. I have posted the stuffed eggplant. Come over and check it out. Thanks for this delicious recipe!! said...

Tanu, lan:

Thanks for the comments.