My parents come from two different religious faiths. My father is a Hindu and my mother a devout Catholic. Over the years they bickered a great deal, with vexations expressed over issues such as my dad’s smoking habit, my mom’s nagging, annoying relatives that would visit unannounced, what restaurant to eat at, what movie to watch, house decor, etc. Never have they once argued over religion. I grew up in a household where both my parents greatly respect each other’s religious choices and tolerance of one’s religious beliefs was strongly emphasized.
My parents met in 1984. They worked together for the same finance company. My mother worked in a clerical position while my father worked as an assistant manager. They started out as colleagues who hung out in the same group of friends. My mother’s friends would say to her about my father. “Oh he will treat you like a queen!” When my parents started dating, they would meet at a restaurant far away from where my father’s parents lived. I happened to see this restaurant when I went to India last year and in my mind I tried to recreate a scene where two forbidden lovers met surreptitiously to avoid being sighted by family members. My mother lost her father when she was a teenager and my grandmother was her only parent for a while. My grandmother (Nana) fell very sick in 1985 and my father paid for her treatment. During my Nana’s sickness, my parents’ bond only grew stronger.
Nana did not survive the illness but her last wish was to see my mom and dad married.
In October 1985 my parents got married against the will of my dad’s parents. They had a court wedding at first. Several days after their court wedding, a small religious wedding ceremony was held for them. On my computer, I have an old photo of my parents after their wedding. They look very nervous in the picture. When I asked them about the lack of even a glint of happiness in their expressions, my father said it was because tensions were very high during the time. My mother has told me how my father’s relatives sneered and smirked at her, a naïve Goan Catholic woman clumsily performing the rituals of a Tamil Iyengar bride. She says 25 years later she has forgiven but it is hard to forget.
My father’s parents disapproved of my father’s choice and were enraged that their son had gone against their wishes to marry a Catholic woman. When my mother moved into my father’s house after her marriage, she had to endure the snide remarks and general disparaging attitude of my grandparents towards her. My father stepped in several times asking his parents to check their behaviour towards their daughter-in-law, however the taunts and criticism did not stop. On one occasion, when my father was on a work trip abroad, my grandparents ordered my mother to leave the house. When my father returned from his trip his anger knew no bounds and he said to his parents that if his own wife could not live in his house then no one else had the right to live there. I respect my father for his courage and ability to differentiate between right and wrong. A big lesson for all you Mama’s boys out there!
Two wonderful children were also born out of this marriage. There was me first followed by my younger brother 2 years later. What religious values did our parents infuse in us and how? Growing up I learned basic Catholic prayers. I remember as a child I was terrified of having nightmares about ghosts and demons. My mother taught me the ‘Our Father’ and the ‘Hail Mary’, which I said three times every night before bed. Saying those prayers made me feel like my dreams at night were safe and protected from all evil elements. I also attended a Christian school in Bombay and learned several popular religious hymns. I’d never leave the house in the morning without my mother gently tracing a trinity on my forehead with her fingers. In my teens, my prayers became more like conversations with my God, rather than chanted prayers. In my twenties, I spoke even less with God.
The impact of Hinduism in my life has also been prominent. My father performs a puja (a religious Hindu ceremony) or makes a holy pilgrimage, following any big decision. For example, he organized a ceremony in his new office last year and invited close family for a lunch after the ceremony. He believes that such pujas and offerings of food will keep the Hindu Gods happy and they will continue to shower our family with their blessings. We have been on several religious trips as a family to temples in different parts of India. My father is also a believer in Hindu astrology and consults his favourite astrologer before making any big decisions related to the family or his career.
As we got older, for both my brother and I, religion became less of a practice as we realized we didn’t need it as much as we did in our formative years. Both religions helped instill great moral values in us. My mother spoke of fearing no mortal soul but God, and I attribute that fear of God to my doing the right thing in many situations. Now, my brother and I are wholesome individuals capable of maintaining strong friendships and doing great service unto others through our professions and acts of kindness. Perhaps now, we do not need a Jesus or multiple Hindu Lords to help us be good people. The Gods have already completed their duty and watched over us while we were growing up. We’re okay now. My brother and I had an honest conversation with our parents last year about how we do not identify with either of their religions. At long last, our parents seemed to understand what we were saying.
What is God for me is the strong love that made my parent’s inter-religious ‘love’ marriage last 25 years and counting. What is God was that my parents taught me prayers and took me to the temple to calm me down in stressful times such as when I suffered from pre-exam jitters, nightmares and during sickness. What is God is that people from all over the world, from drastically different religious, racial and cultural backgrounds come together to make their marriage work for the rest of their lifetime. What is God is that the couple’s in-laws are unable to destroy that marriage unlike what is depicted so frequently in Indian soap operas!!
That’s enough God I have with me for a lifetime. I’m good to go. Amen and Hari Om.
This article has also been published on Two Mangoes’ blog site with the link listed below. We will have an interview up about this unique approach to South Asian dating soon!