The Spiritual Beggar

It’s been a while…my oh my a long time since I have written my last blog.

But there’s been this little thing that has been digging at my sides, my eyes, my blood supply. Yes, it is that deep. Who is God?

So, for those who know me I have had quite a tumultuous relationship with the Almighty. I grew up with a Tamil Mauritian father, and an Irish Catholic mother. By heritage my father is a Hindu and the whole family practised Hinduism in all its glory from the Chengalpattu and Kanyakumari days in Tamil Nadu. OK, so Kanyakumari ancestry is hearsay, and not confirmed, but the idea of it is breath taking! On my mum’s side, well she pretty much became a white Tamilian on marrying my father. Nothing would compel her to remove her Thaali (marital chain and pendant) nor her metti (or minji, marital toe rings). I grew up surrounded by Tamil ideologies, the concept of Sivaperumaan the great and who will be our final destination. Actually, to be honest, my family did not teach me much of this. You were born into so you are. In fact, I knew more Hindi than I did Tamil, because my family were so immersed in Bollywood. With the many tears and family drama, we probably felt we were living in a Bollywood big screen! I always felt the identity of being Tamil was just for decorative purposes. We are by blood and heritage, but have continued adopting it for the sake of our ancestral culture (which we dipped into every now and again) and for marriage. Even the set of marriage “system” is being slowly phased out in favour of adopting more North Indian styles and customs. It’s not an issue, I mean each to their own to be honest.

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I grew up (until the age of 17) with a set of identities. In all honesty I didn’t know where I belonged. Up until that age, following all the Kaavadi processions and bhajanam singing I used to do in the temple, a real turn in my life occurred. Some call it brain washing. It possibly might just be that. I mean I was vulnerable, questioning life, and religion as a concept. I call it a phase. Which lasted 14 years. I had just returned from Mauritius, and having spent some time with my family, most of whom are converted Christians, I began to veer towards the idea of Jesus Christ being the universe’s Saviour. I mean I endured a lot of Hindu God battering whilst I was in Mauritius that year in 1994. Listening to all the ridicule aimed at the multiple limbs, elephant headed, cow dung and metal made idols which we pray to. I began to resonate with this. Why am I praying to cow shit? (Of course, I later learned that that there’s an atmospheric purification purpose of using cow dung during rituals, and for moulding family deities out of this faecal material).

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What followed was this transformation in character and personality. I became more nervous and more fearful. I got nervous at even masturbating should the Holy Spirit dare fly over me and chop my manly pride off. I felt I could not have the normal late teenage years which my peers were having. My only solace was going out clubbing until sunrise, but surely if I’m not sexing anyone in the corner of the club, then I will remain blessed. Better things will come to me. The blessing awaits such a kindred, spiritual and dedicated soul. Right? Nah. I just simply waited. And waited. I became weird with waiting. Drained all Tamilism from my soul. In fact, drained all Indianism from my body. I even rotated my Tamil Mauritian heritage around to being African. I wanted black to be seen as my dominant heritage. This is an interesting quality of many Indian Christians from Mauritius (actually many Mauritians with Indian backgrounds in general) which I have noticed, where we try to separate ourselves from Indian heritage as much as possible. Maybe because it is a reminder of being entwined with various religious practises generations ago? Maybe to do so makes them feel more purified, less confused and with a more comfortable postcolonial identity. For those non-Christian Mauritians (particularly Tamils), maybe the blue in the Mauritius flag is a glitch and, in their reality, it is Red, Gold, Green. Mauritius is only 2,000km off the South East coast of Africa and part of the African continent after all, despite being located in the Indian Ocean.

I would get into debates (or avoid because I could never justify my conversion) and always came out the other end defeated. To get emotional and respond angrily is defeat. For some reason my non-converted family seemed more involved and Tamil back then. Involved in all the poosei’s you can think of. Obviously, I would shun and avoid attending any of these because to be involved meant access for the devil to penetrate my soul and destroy me as a result. With a curse that would last a lifetime. Or maybe it was Jesus Christ my Saviour who would punish me for even entertaining the thought of attending these events? The 14 years that followed 1994 was a process of separation and divorce from everything I knew. Everything that by right, bloodline and heir was MINE.

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However, can you ever convert something that is deep rooted within you from birth? Actually, even before birth. That is deep rooted in your Gotram lineage? During those years, whenever I walked past our local temple, I used to get a feeling of frisson running down my spine at the sound of the melam. Whenever I would hear Carnatic or even elements of it in music, I would get a rush within me, and thirst for more of it. If I went to the temple (because I had to for so-and-so’s Karumadi), I would want to sing a Thevaram as I would have done as a pre-teen. But at the same time, I had to renounce any of these feelings as they would not please the Holy Spirit – you know… the thing with wings that tells God and His Son you are either deserving or not. So, I continued training myself to hate all that was linked to my upbringing and Hinduism. Hate my rootical culture. Hate my identity. Hate my family. My ancestral journey. HATE ME.

Fast forward to 2007. My perspective slowly rotated towards a 180 degree turn. Only halfway. I had an engagement function which was organised according to Hindu Tamil custom. I was livid and filled with rage. I am supposed to be enjoying these moments but in the face of Christianity I couldn’t. An army of converted relatives began texting me until sunrise, the day of my engagement to warn me of the many adverse consequences going through the ceremony would have on my life. It was fine for them to plot ways for me to waive involvement, secretly marry and run away with my bride. It was fine for Bible bashers to attend in support of my turmoil and disrupt anything that held symbolic and religious significance to this major step in our coupling. It was fine to disrupt everything at the expense of everyone’s mood. All of this created a damp and heavy cloud over my head and a heaving atmosphere during the function cum party. Oh, and the disruption caused? A lamp was deliberately put out by the Holy Spirit messenger of God! (i.e. a relative and self-proclaimed pastor).

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It was an event that I could not enjoy, and it impacted my new fiancée’s ability to look forward to our many years we’ll be spending together. What occurred after this moment was the beginning of realisation in how many people were being hurt through my selfishness and shallow thinking from my refusal to actively participate in religious and cultural events. The run up to our religious ceremony was smoother, with me beginning to question, research and eventually love my core religion again. Even after being completely condemned by a Mauritian pastor based in London, and after that condemnation, our 3-month-old son being rushed to hospital during the final stages of our wedding ceremony, deep down I was still learning to love. ME. (Oh, and yes, our first born arrived out of the religious wedlock – the horror).

The start of the latter journey was 10 years ago. Over 10 years, I began and finalised my divorce from Christianity, we became property owners, became parents to 4 children, I was appointed director of a Hindu charity and President of the executive committee of the said charity, learnt more to read, write and understand Tamil. Not bad for highlights eh? I also lost my mum, my dad had a stroke and later dementia, we became carers to a gradually becoming mean man (caring was not simultaneous), I (partly choice driven) lost my job (and will to live), I climbed down from in-vision heights I aspired to climb up, and now we are just scraping through, regardless of there now being two salaries trickling into the household. During that time, I begged. Begged GOD to protect my house. Begged GOD to protect my family. Begged GOD to help find a caring solution for my Dad. Begged GOD to protect my pay-out. Begged GOD to strengthen my confidence. Begged God to help me find a better paid job than the last. Begged God for better opportunities. Begged god.

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Now I love Suhasini Maniratnam (nee Haasan, 80’s South Indian actress, wife of the legendary Indian director, Mani Ratnam and niece of the ever so legendary Indian actor Kamal Haasan). Or actually, I began to love her thinking. A woman born into traditional ideologies (I initially mistyped this as “indiaology”…what a fab term), she clearly has had her faith and Tamil-ism knocked down somehow. And I feel I want to train my brain to think like her so that the pressure of fearing the ever-so-superior, of hoping that the ever-so-divine will grant, of waiting on the ever-so-almighty to reward, will disappear.

“I don’t believe in God, in prayer, in going to temples begging God to give me and my family happiness. I am not asking everyone to be an atheist, but good thoughts are not spent in a temple. You are not going to make money merely by reciting slokas; you need to know the share market, mutual funds and so on.” (“Getting to Know Suhasini Maniratnam”, www.rediff.com, 14thJuly 2006).

However, I do get a rush going to the temple. Reciting slokas, singing Thiruppugazh and Thevaram makes me emotional. With this emotion there clearly is something that penetrates my soul to feel that way. Flashback to when I was a Christian – a similar feeling of emotion. There were elements in Christianity which I realise have been implied in my own religion (or vice versa) using phrases which resonate in the language of the believer. I’m not giving an preach lesson here, and I’m not going to be a pretentious scholar by quoting Thirukkural by kural, Thirumanthiram versus Thiruppaavai versus Bible verses.

Going back to Suhasini Maniratnam’s quote though. Am I there yet? The journey might just be starting.

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