So today morning I woke up to a beautiful article written by a much respected artist from India. Do watch one of my most loved scenes from one of his movies here. The sum and substance of the article resonated a lot with our lives so far (Sonali and I). Made me want to write about it…
My sense of resonance came from parts other than the growing religious fundamentalism aspect that the article highlighted. I am married to a person who incidentally is also a Hindu (Bengali, brahmin), we were lau birds for 9 years before finally deciding bahut hui mehangaii ki maar abki baar aar yaa paar, you could say since we got out of our daipers and that wouldn’t be too far off the mark… it was a simple court marriage using the Special Marriage Act (yeah same court where SRK married Gauri under the same act as it provides for inter religion marriage…. not that I admire the fellow much but good tidbit to tell the kids when they grow up)….
She did not need to convert or change her name when we married …. infact she’s still Sonali Gupta for all purposes and we’ve not even felt the need to slap on an additional Khan to the back of that name (so yeah there Naseer uncle did do a bit of a covfefe there… Ratna Pathak became Ratna Pathak Shah same as Kareena Kappor is now Kareena Kapoor Khan….. who does that willingly didn’t they see the initials becoming KKK, Ku Klux Klan…. anyone…. no one…. aah well so much for a widely/largely uneducated under-read film industry)…. maybe I’m too secure about my own identity or maybe we’re not too sure about my identity but the urge to maul her name just wasn’t there…. some would say that’s the un-manly thing to do…. to them I fold my hands and say “brother please!” (ummm actually in my head I’m saying bitch please but then)….. frankly it’s your personal choice we chose to take this road you are more than correct and free in taking the other route…. our logic was “what difference does it make to the total entropy of the world…. it still stays constant”. Besides why would you do that to a classmate or for that matter any other fellow human being?…. well unless they wanted to do it to themselves in which case I do want to question their loyalty to their parents…. aah well sordid nasty ugly debate that one… lets just leave it at “to each his own, this is what we did”….
As for how do we practice our religion? What religion? The one that demands a huge show of rituals and customs? No no we don’t believe in that one… we do do the one where you have an eternal dialog open with the higher power…. a mental dialog which does not require fancy “iphones”…. if you must then I have a small nook where I keep my prayer mat she has a small shelf where the idols sit…. we go do the ritual stuff once in a while as and when the urge to get off the hotline and onto the publicly accepted norms kicks in…. no compulsions, no discipline…. though often times I do wonder why bother
it’s actually been amusing how people call me Mr. Gupta and how Reliance refused to send us bills which had her correct unadulterated name (they insisted on slapping a “Khan” in the end) even after a few reminders to fix the name…. eventually we just disconnected from everything Reliance but that was not at all because of the name issue…. the service was pathetic specially while on the road… if anything we’re practical beings not in the least emotional about the identity bit at least…. in fact I’ve often bong talked my way out of situations … to illustrate my leveraging of other peoples emotional nature for my practical ends here’s a real incident….
we were moving into the first apartment we bought together and this society secretary type thunders in and says “leeft se samaan nahin jaayega stair se leke jaao”…. standing on the side I detect that slight Bengali twang and launch into “keee daada ektu ta aachche neete dio ebaar boda jeeneesh noyi aache”…. that bit of completely senseless broken bengali melted the poor fellow…. “aapni Baangali?” he asks and then the conversation started…. the movers shifted even the full cupboards in the brand spanking new elevators…. he was even more courteous when he realized that the first name on the sale deed was that of my dyed in the wool bong wife….
Then a little later came the kids…. we wanted simple small names and not tongue twisters…. it was difficult to find religion agnostic names…. so the rationale was that anyway for purposes of documentation the last name would be picked up from the fathers name…. so…. honoring the long standing tradition of equality and to continue the game of “confusing the audience” it made complete sense to keep a first name that did not really belong in the bag of names associated with the religion signified by the last name…. RIA it was…. short, simple yet magnanimous and most importantly “Giving”… predicatably it became Ria Khan on the birth certificate and everywhere else thereon out. The firstname belongs to our supposed “Hindu” identity and the last name totally throws the audience into a tizzy….
When the second one came along we were even more lazier than with the first one…. we outsourced the job of finding a name for the new kid to the first one…. however unfortunately the fruit had not fallen too far from the tree…. she was as lazy, if not more, than her parents…. after a full minute of thinking she says “I’ll give her the same name, Ria”…. notice there never was a doubt that we were having a second girl child as well….. not even a moments doubt on that one… We are equals all of us in this house so we figured ok we’ll need to work with that… however a sudden stroke of genius (which we see ever so often in this house) I jumbled up the letters and turned RIA into IRA…. everyone was happy with that… I did have a panic attack at the hospital waiting outside the OT “what if the new ‘thing’ is a boy we don’t have a name???”… I did come up with a nasty solution, fortunately though the gynac stepped out and announced “Ira, it is then…. you’re going to get so beaten up Imti, tu to gaya beta…. three women in the house” I hugged and thanked her for that…. in retrospect I suspect I wouldn’t have dumped the boy…. maybe just taken him home and brought him up normally…. kids grow up the way you show them… lead by example is the only way… So yeah kids names happened that way….
Next at Podar, we switched Ria to that school for an year when she moved from pre-primary to primary…. they came up with this ridiculous rule to fill out a form and mention religion clearly. I skipped the column and had a proper shouting match with the vice principal. Finally because I was also part of the PTA I had a good discussion with the principal and had them drop that column from the form…. or at least skip it for Ria for that year. Next year we moved back to her original school.
So yeah it’s been 13 years since I became Mr. Gupta and she became Mrs. Khan. We’ve had a decent run all thanks to the fact that we have a sense of humor about the whole Mr. Gupta/Mrs. Khan affair. Kids have not been introduced to religion at all. They can figure it out on their own it’s not our job to turn them into religious beings. We just need to make sure they stay open minded and aware of the fact that the most important person is themselves the rest of the world can go take a hike and when the time comes to pray they might as well say their namaz to idols of Gopal or light a diya infront of the Koran for all we care (oh boy blasphemy right there)…..
Lately things are getting ghetto like all around all thanks to our dear politicians… the scum of the earth that has decided to make a living by making people fight. It’s subtle but it’s happening. People are preferring to identify, identify with one or the other religion…. it’s as if they are preparing for a fight and we all know there’s strength in numbers…. I do identify with Naseer uncles point about being worried about the future for our areligious kids in a country where divisive wedges are being driven deep into the ground. However I also know that these things are cyclic. This is just a repeat of what has happened earlier as well. If we, Sonali and I, can exist in-spite of the holocaust like separation of Hindus-Muslims back then then surely our kids will survive what’s purportedly happening now as well. All we need to do is believe and equip them, not with a divisive ideology and the strength in numbers ploy but with the ability to understand that religion is not your identity, you are who you are in your head. A human being first, before anything else. If you can be human in the darkest of times, nothing bad will ever happen to you. So yeah there’s always that, hope.
I could go on about this…. but then one has to save up material for the book 😀 eventually…. One is generous but not thaaat generous…. yet.