How I learnt to be a Hindu

Posted November 24th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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I read this blog entry a couple of days back and remembered my initiation into the world of religion. My father was a practicing atheist so we didn’t have any obvious religions icons in my house. When I was in 4 th standard, we shifted residence from suburban Mulund to city-center Bombay Central. It was a big change for me in terms of school life: from a very South Indian school, I moved to a convent school. My father had already warned me that convent schools are tough and I would have to study harder to top my class. That was his way of motivating me to study further.

I was feeling a bit awkward on the first day of class. It was a new school, I didn’t know anybody. My class-teacher was taking roll-call and entering information about the new students into her register. Her name was Brenda Riberio and it was her first day of teaching too. To my 8 year young eyes, she seemed very old indeed but looking back she could not have been more than 22 or 23.

Ms. Brenda asked every new student about their name, date of birth, religion, parents name, address etc. She was doing a great job till she came to me. I confidently stated my name, date of birth, address, parents name…I would have gone ahead and given her the names of all my uncles and aunts and their occupation too if she was interested. She was not. But then she wanted to know more.

“Deepa, what religion are you?”

I had no idea. Being the nerd that I was, I was more upset about not knowing the correct answer to a teacher’s question than knowing my religion. “I don’t know”, I mumbled finally.

The teacher clearly didn’t expect this response. She looked up at me carefully, and asked “Haven’t your parents told you what religion you belong to?”. “No”, I replied….I was glad to pass the blame of not knowing the answer to my parents.

“Are you a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian”, she probed further.

I had never heard those terms before, so I shook my head at each one. Now the teacher was intrigued and decided to use detective skills to decipher my religion. I always wondered how she didn’t guess my religion because of my name was a dead give away. But I suppose, she, like many others, lumped all South Indians under the common tag of being a Madrasi and didn’t dissect them any further.

So she persevered. “Ok, so what festivals do you celebrate? “

I clearly knew the answer to that one…I took a deep breath and launched into my answer “ I like festivals very much. We celebrate Diwali, Holi, Christmas and Id”.

I knew by the teacher’s expression that my answer was wrong. I wasn’t sure about the whys and the hows but I was quite embarrassed to be standing in front of the teacher for so long on my first day at school. And clearly not knowing the answers to any of her questions. My father was correct, I thought, Convent schools are tough— I already couldn’t answer the teacher.

By this time, the teacher changed her tactic, “Tell me which God do you pray to?”

I didn’t pray at all. I had an inking that it would not be the correct answer. I tried to remember who we prayed to. I remembered we had an old black and white photo of Guruvayurappan that my mother lit a lamp in front of on certain days. My father always laughed when he saw that. May be the teacher wanted to know that, I thought. We pray to Guruvayurappan, I told the teacher, a little hestitantly. Not surprisingly, the teacher had obviously never heard of Guruvayurappan.

At this point, she was frustrated and she finally gave up. “Ask your parents and tell me tomorrow”, she said.

My parents must have told me later, I don’t remember that very clearly but I soon realized I am supposed to be a Hindu. The school was run by Christian/Catholic nuns. Almost all of the students were Muslims. There were a few Christians, and they had to attend a Christian class in a different room when the rest of us had Moral Science. Convent Schools were not tougher than other schools. I stood first in my first unit test, and then I realized it was easy to do that and stopped studying. I came second in my second unit test and third in my third unit test.

Ms. Brenda Riberio always thought I was a weird kid.