Religion vs. Family
This conflicting feeling in me emerges every year during the festival season at home. I’m someone who does not believe in God or any form of idol worship. I just don’t connect to it at all, whereas the people at home, especially my grandparents are extremely religious. My grandmother does puja twice everyday, for about 45 minutes per session. She recites the Shlokas with so much faith and love, and her day is incomplete without it. My grandfather also attentively listens to her chanting and joins in with some phrases here and there. He also stops in front of the puja room every time he passes by it and whispers a tiny prayer. All this is totally fine as it affects me in no way. It’s actually interesting for me to see their devotion and this is one of the few constants in their life that hasn’t changed over the years. It’s their form of meditation, their way of explaining the world, their scaffold in life and I respect that. My parents believe in God and Hinduism but they don’t perform acts of worship on a daily basis, though they perform the festival traditions with gusto.
My internal battle begins only during the festival season when I’m expected to be part of the festivities. I’m expected to help prepare for the puja a day prior to the actual festival, setting up the idol, decorating him/her, colouring a bunch of stuff yellow with turmeric water, and so on. On the day of the festival, obviously, I have to wake up early, have a bath immediately and then again help with the rest of the preparations, be it cooking food or tying up the mango leaves and hanging them at the doors with the flower garlands. Oh! And I have to wear traditional clothes. Well the clothes isn’t really related to the beliefs part of things, as in I have no problem with traditional clothes, it’s just that I’m really uncomfortable in them and I just don’t want to wear them. I’m also okay with cooking food because I quite enjoy it, both the process of cooking and the process of eating. I just find the time constraints quite annoying. Granted I can’t complain too much about this because when we invite guests over, we have time constraints, and I don’t get too worked up that time. My main issue is with doing the prep and then the puja itself. I feel totally out of place and extremely uncomfortable during the puja. I understand that offering flowers to the idol is a custom but I don’t see the reasoning behind it. Also, since I’m not carried away into a trance like state during the chanting, like my grandparents, I’m just sitting there watching them awkwardly. We are also supposed to offer the God some of the festival food but thankfully we then eat this offering as well so it’s not wasted.
If I lived alone, like when in hostel, I wouldn’t celebrate any of these festivals. I don’t see the logical need for them in my life and I don’t connect with them emotionally to follow the traditions. But, since I live with my parents and grandparents in their house, I have to follow their traditions. And it’s not just that I can’t tell them that I don’t want to do these things, but it’s the fact that it makes them happy. If I refuse to do these things I’m sure my grandparents will be heartbroken. After all the struggle in their life and all that they have been through to reach here, I can’t be the reason they are unhappy during the most important days of their twilight years. If I can’t do these small things to make them happy can I even call myself a good granddaughter? But doing these things make me so irritated on the inside that I really dread these festival days and this leaves me in a confused mental space. Sometimes I pretend to be on my periods during that time just to get out of the whole ‘sitting for puja’ thing. Recently I also found another hack, where I just close my eyes, shut out the world and meditate for 15–20 minutes during the puja. Initially they were confused about what I was up to. They wondered whether I had fallen asleep while sitting with no headrest (knowing me it’s definitely possible). Once I explained that it was my way of meditating they stopped bothering me. This is great because it works both ways. They think I’m meditating to connect with God or whatever, but I’m meditating to cut out all the religious stuff and bring peace to my mind amidst all the conflict. Though this doesn’t solve the whole part where I have to help with the prep, it’s still one step towards keeping my mental peace without causing unhappiness to the rest of my family during this season.
With this situation, there’s literally no right and wrong which is what makes it even more aggravating. I, as a non-believer, want to keep true to my views and outlook on religion and my family just wants me to be part of the family festivities. The clash of beliefs and being a family is a weird one and it’s impossible to pick a side. Of course one thing is clear, that once I get my own place I won’t be following these customs anymore, but until then I’m going to try and keep my family happy.