A week of intense high winds blew incessantly our entire visit. We stayed at 8500 feet, bundled up for walks, and grew used to the howling sound of wind through trees each night.
Door knocker at my dad’s house.
When I was in grade school, a teacher gave us a primer on world religions. I was enrapt; so many amazing stories about how the world was created! When the teacher asked about my dad’s East Indian culture and assumed Hindu roots, I couldn’t answer. I remember blushing red with embarrassment.
And so I began to ask; “dad, how did you practice religion as a kid? Did you have to go to church every week? What is so sacred about cows? Are American cows sacred too, etc.” My dad would say” Honey, you’re in Rome: why ask these questions? Just don’t worry about it”.
So I did what any 5th grader does; I became obsessed, with my dad’s culture, and all the questions he wouldn’t answer. I read every book on religion in my school library, then moved on to ravish the ones in the public library- a much wider selection than the nuns at school chose.
I’m sure Dad thought this was the way to handle me best; a condition of his marriage was to trade out his Hinduism for Catholicism. My first generation friends tell me that none of this is unusual, that all immigrant’s come to the US with the intent to either assimilate 100%, or recreate enclaves of subculture mirroring the ones they left behind~ but better. Lots of parents choose to not teach the ‘old culture’ to the new.
So imagine my surprise, when over dinner this past week, my 84-year-old dad began to spontaneously tell stories about his Hindu upbringing and his childhood practice and beliefs! In short, answering (in stories!) all those questions I used to have: why Ganesha has an elephant’s head and an infant’s body; old vs new faith; how Kurukule and Durga (represented in the family temple in South India), relate; the Hindu trinity vs. the Christian trinity. It was stunning. I fast fetched my phone, hid it behind the mashed potatoes, & pressed ‘play’.
By the end of the visit, some understanding of my dad’s beliefs had crystalized. He never seemed religious through my childhood per say, but something new was definitely underfoot now.
I think Hinduism must be like Judaism; more than spiritual beliefs alone, it is a cultural point of reference. Both include beliefs, faith, practices sacred & mundane- like diet and eating habits. My dad never was a big meat eater, though he faked it pretty well all his life. Now he’s become quietly, very selective.
And though he is not at that place yet, it was interesting to hear him say:
“I’m not afraid to die. I will be able to leave this body of aches and pains & move on. I’m curious about what comes next, and honestly, I look forward to the journey ahead.”