Band, Baaja, Baaraat Aur Toast!

Use every occasion to celebrate those who mean a lot to you – it will mean a lot to them!

Yesterday we watched a short video shot at the engagement ceremony of our niece Priyanka. In the video, Priyanka takes time to thank everyone who’s made a difference in and to her Life. She is honest, grateful and very compassionate as she pauses to reflect and share her innermost feelings about her mother, brother, grandmother, fiancé and the extended family!

This is refreshingly different from what traditionally happens at Indian family occasions – most certainly among TamBrahms – like engagements and weddings where families invest all their time and energies in performing rituals and in being subservient to ‘those that make the most noise” in the name of “protocol and respect”. For instance, the girl’s side are always the underdogs at these dos and the members from the boy’s family must always be pleased, their whims pandered to and even their unstated demands must be magically understood and met! Until the last decade, I don’t think TamBrahm weddings were fun. People were always either trying to please the other or find fault with the other. Resultantly even if the boy and girl were in perfect sync with each other, they too were on tenterhooks because they didn’t know when the next explosive situation between their families would erupt! Nett. Nett. No one enjoyed themselves. The celebration was always superficial and never real.

But in this decade, a growing, welcome, trend is emerging.

Eulogy Vs ToastI think this generation of people, in their 20s, has developed a couldn’t-care-less attitude to what others feel, say or do. And I think this irreverence is most appropriate when it comes to dealing with senseless gender-based protocol, inequalities and egos. So, of late, I see a lot more youngsters at our weddings, engagements, baby-showers and such events really celebrating. Important, people are pausing to use these – and other occasions – to talk about each other. To share what they feel about each other and what they mean to each other. After all, what’s the point in eulogizing someone at their memorial service when they won’t be around to hear what you have to say? I feel there is great value in telling people how much they mean to you when they are still there. Surely, it will mean a lot to them.

Slowly, but surely, gender-based protocols and inequalities, in the name of tradition, are also being done away with. At our friends’ son’s wedding recently, the entire family from the boy’s side – all of them accomplished musicians – performed a fusion medley on stage celebrating the girl and her family. In a TamBrahm setting, and in India where the girl’s family have always been treated as doormats, it was really, truly, inspiring to see this change.

I wish that the force be with people like Priyanka, her generation, with families such as our friends’ and with all those who will embrace this new way. I believe family get-togethers and events like engagements and weddings must be used to raise a toast to those that have touched your Life. Even a death must not be mourned in grief or sorrow. Instead the way that Life was lived must be celebrated. True celebration does not come from rituals and protocols it comes from camaraderie and having fun being together. Hope this trend picks up momentum, becomes a wave and drowns everything anti (to it) in its wake!

Teach your children how to keep the faith and to be grateful

Faith, not religion, and being grateful, not ritualistic, are the keys to facing Life’s upheavals.

When I was raised, there was an effort, naturally, to mold me in the classic TamBram culture of being God-fearing and ritualistic. I first resisted that attempt – not entirely to challenge the existence of a Higher Energy but more to rebel against my parents – but soon, as I graduated to adulthood and began a family with Vaani, I developed my own method for communion with divinity. I retained my secular and pragmatic, non-ritualistic, outlook to Life even as I visited places of worship seeking inner peace, answers to existential questions and often to simply recharge myself. Over time, I came to the understanding that religion is completely avoidable – in fact, it is my personal opinion that it must be treated like a narcotic, it should be never tried and must possibly be banned on the planet! I also understood that the real God is the one that is within, your Life source that keeps you alive and going. It is the same Higher Energy that powers the Universe that is in you, in me. So, in effect, you are the God you seek. So the right way to be is to not be God-fearing but God-loving! Which is why, as I have realized, it is very, very important to keep the faith in yourself. Swami Vivekananda sums this up so beautifully: “He is an atheist who does not believe in himself.”

I believe it is the responsibility of all parents to raise their children with this understanding of Life and champion the relevance of faith in today’s times. Faith is not what you have in an external agent or resource. Faith is what you fundamentally have in yourself. It is the awareness that if you have been created you will be looked after and cared for. It is this awareness that can help anyone get through Life’s upheavals and crises. Surely no one’s Life is going to be free of problems and challenges. No one is going to get through Life without facing at least one situation that defies logic and human problem-solving skills. It is to deal with such a situation that we must teach our children the value of keeping the faith in themselves – which is, really, in the Higher Energy that has created all of us! Indeed, the presence of a teacher – someone, who can lead and coach without bringing in religion or rituals – will be highly valuable here. But the absence of such a person is never going to stall one’s inner evolution and awakening. Faith is so unique and intensely personal that when there is faith anything – a.k.a miracles per the world – is possible!

We must remember, however, that faith works miracles only when you develop and retain an attitude of gratitude. Even in the gravest of situations, if you are grateful for the Life you have – at the most elementary-yet-profound level for simply being alive; remember, you are having this experience only because you are alive! – you will find that Life will always open doors. You may not often find all the solutions you are looking for, but you will discover newer ways and means for experiencing Life, for facing your situation and for lasting yet another day.

hqdefaultAs parents we have to teach our children the right values no doubt. We must give them the freedom of choice to live their lives their way surely. But, in addition, we must also teach them how to keep the faith and how to express their gratitude for this free, unsolicited (none of us have asked to be born!), limited-period gift called Life. Protecting our children from going through their upheavals and learning curves in Life will never work. Each one of us has to bear our own cross. So it is for our children too. We can be there for our children, we can be with them, we can walk with them every step of the way, but we can’t live their Life for them or instead of them. The only way our children too can evolve and grow up to be better human beings, more resilient and compassionate, is by learning to keep the faith that all is well and to be grateful for whatever is, the way it is!   
 

Don’t fear God and be ritualistic trying to escape ‘sin’

Love the Higher Energy that powers the Universe. If you want to call this Energy God, please do. But please be God-loving, not God-fearing!

A story on Vaani and me broke on the popular media platform for entrepreneurship YourStory earlier this week. We have since been inundated with messages from people seeking perspective on dealing with their Life situations. One gentleman shared how his already struggling small enterprise got burdened with debt. His father passed away last year while visiting his pregnant daughter in the US. Traumatized by her father’s demise, the man’s sister developed serious complications with her delivery. The man said he had to travel to the US and stay on there to assist his sister. So the last rites of his father had to be performed in the US. The family decided to also do the elaborate rituals that follow a person’s demise. The man had to borrow from his family and friends and ended up spending Rs.20 Lakh on performing the rituals! One thing led to another – his business folded up, his income stream dried up and to keep his creditors at bay, the man started borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. His debt stands at Rs.1 crore now and he doesn’t have money to buy groceries!

I can completely empathize with the man’s plight. I have been there and I often end up being in a penniless state every once in a while – even now!

With due respect to the gentleman’s belief systems, I would like to question the validity of rituals and religion in Life. I wonder why we want to perform rituals for a deceased person at such high costs? I have nothing against the economic model of priests and all those who call themselves representatives of God or religion. To me, it’s a business model that must thrive like any other. So, the model’s mandarins will market rituals as a must-do and the way they convince their customers – people like you and me – is that they play up the “fear-God” angle. Especially when it comes to rituals related to someone’s death. I have heard that carefully crafted and articulated pitch: “You have to do these rituals to keep the deceased’s soul at peace, to do your duty as a blood relative of the deceased and for the welfare of the generations that will follow you in your clan. If you don’t do these rituals you will be sinning and God will punish you and your family.” The moment God’s dark – vicious – side played up, the ignorant, unawakened, gullible fellow voyager capitulates. And so rituals get done and that’s how the religion-ritual economy thrives!

love-and-fearAt this point, let’s step back to understand Life better. Obviously there’s a Higher Energy that has created all of us. That Energy, without doubt, is inscrutable. Yet there’s something definitive and visible about this Energy: it promises nothing and demands nothing. So why fear this Energy? Think about it. You have been created without your asking for it. You will live as long as you will and then you will die. Death is a certainty that you are born with. And have to live with. So why fear death? And why fear an after-Life that no one has ever come back to talk about? Similarly, when someone dies, why brood over their death or mourn endlessly? Why perform rituals fearing incurring the wrath of this Higher Energy? Why not just celebrate the Life of the deceased by doing what the person loved doing a lot? Ask yourself, if you would still do the rituals you do – or are made to do – if you were implicitly convinced that the Higher Energy, that you call God, need not be feared? If you would still do it, then go on, stay ritualistic. But if you would rather not do it, then I rest my case.

Simply, any form of fear must be dropped. You and I have been created to live a full Life and enjoy it. You are not here to fear anything – not even your impending death. So love your God, the Higher Energy that has created you, than be God-fearing! Anything that holds you hostage and makes you cower in fear must be abandoned – and that includes religion and rituals.