Bringing kids to an understanding of prayer and spirituality has got to be one of the more difficult aspects of parenting. As a Hindu living outside of India, I find myself particularly challenged in this area.
Learning Religion Through Osmosis
Growing up in Bombay, religion was ‘learned’ through osmosis. The mere fact that it happened around me on a day to day basis led me to accept what others later defined as ‘religious abnormalities,’ such as the family pundit (the priest)’s quick response to personal calls on his cell phone in the midst of a puja ceremony. As far as I was concerned, religion was always in plentiful supply, with more festivals and holidays than one could ever keep track of. So I figured it was okay to cut the pundit some slack. He had a pretty busy job, after all. Besides, he and I had a tacit agreement — as long as I showed up from time to time, I had full flexibility to take as much (or as little) as I wanted to out of whatever was being offered up that month.
Raising Hindu Kids in the West
Raising Hindu kids in the West is a whole different ballgame. I find myself preparing spiritual lesson-plans for my kids in much the same manner that a professor might prepare to teach a university level course. The end result of this is that the children analyze God down to a tee, asking questions that makes me as parent really grapple for the right (read politically correct) answers:
“Mummy, if Parshuram wields an axe, Krishna a discus, and they are both considered to be incarnations of Lord Vishnu, then why do people say that God is not violent? How come it’s okay for Draupadi to have five husbands and King Dashratha to have three wives? If Lord Ganesha can have a mouse with him everywhere he goes, then why do we get pest control every few months?”
The Gods are our Super Heroes
Thanks to a recent stream of animated movies that bring to light practically every aspect of Hindu mythology my kids have become obsessed with religion. My son Arya, especially has become such an ardent follower of the pantheon of Hindu Gods (in his eyes they are superheroes just like Batman and the Power Rangers), so much so that his daily habits are increasingly influenced by the values that God stands for. Arya will seize a bow and arrow at every given opportunity, because he wants to be prepared to destroy any evil that might come his way. That too with a single bow, like Rama the epic hero of the Ramayana. And at dinnertime, he will re-arrange everyone’s forks to face down into the plate. According to him it’s rude to point the stabbing ends of your fork to God!
I was particularly struck by a conversation that I overheard him having with a friend during a recent play date. Given that we were about to leave for dinner in a nearby restaurant, I asked the boys to go to the toilet. “Neale!’ came Arya’s earnest voice from the bathroom. “I am trying so hard but absolutely nothing is coming out.”
“Don’t worry Arya,” answered Neale reassuringly. “Just focus your mind and pray to Lord Ganesha. He will remove all obstacles that come in the way of your doing potty!” (For those of you who do not know this already Lord Ganesha is considered to be the remover of obstacles).
It turns out that I was not the only eavesdropping on the conversation. My inquisitive daughter rolled her eyes in her usual know-it-all way, expounding Ayurvedic wisdom that always makes me swell with pride yet shudder at the thought of a self created Mini Me. “The fact that he is constipated, means that his tummy is filled with dry wind,” she retorted. “Ganesha can’t fix that stuff, he should focus on Hanuman instead. He’s the one Super Hero who can after all fly faster than the wind, so if anyone can beat wind issues, Hanuman can!”