I come from pure Hindu Indian stock, meaning there is no other religion or nationality mixed up in my lineage. Also means that I have a boring-ass family tree. Purity is for the Nazis. The saving grace is that my mum is from Maharashtra and my dad is from Kerala. [For the non-Indian folk who read this, this state of affairs is unusual.]
My mum and her relatives speak Marathi and Kannada, and are part of a community called lingayats. This is a Shaivaite community, in that the primary form of worship is Lord Shiva/Mahadev/<enter a gazillion different names here>.
My father’s family are more erudite, with PhDs liberally sprinkled across the generations. They are not particularly religious, even though they are Hindus. They often stick to English, but a fair few of them do speak Malayalam too. My father’s Malayalam was terrible, and thus mine is non-existent.
Now, I have had more interaction with my mum’s relatives during my lifetime. They are mostly awful excuses for human beings who I have to interact with, because society. Most have been pleasant to me though; when I was younger, because of my parents’ prosperity, and now because they are downright nervous around me. [I am unpredictable in their eyes, and very few of the girls in the family lead independent lives minus husbands. Also, I retort fairly sarcastically when riled.]
One of my mom’s cousins is married to an overly sanctimonious weasel, who we will call MalMham for the purposes of this story. He is the sort of scumbag I am ashamed to be related to, because he is dishonest, unkind, unscrupulous, greedy, nasty, and much more. His wife is not much better, because she shirks work, and burdens other people with her needs. But, regardless of their obnoxious behaviour, the pair of them spend at least three hours every morning doing their ling pooja. Now, this is a prescribed ritual for all lingayats, but most normal people spend about five minutes doing it. Work and life don’t really allow for elaborate daily rituals after all, unless you are retired and have someone else do all your work for you.
My mum never taught me this ritual, so I don’t even spend five minutes doing it, even though I am technically a lingayat. Ditto for my dad, as he became one after marrying my mum. However, we are deeply spiritual people, and believe in being good people is far greater worship, than a token prayer coupled with atrocious principles.
One day, mum and I were on our way to Bengaluru from Mumbai. However, because we couldn’t get tickets directly there, we made a stop at Solapur. Solapur is my maternal grandmother’s town, and it is filled with her degenerate and disgusting relatives. Due to necessity, we were forced to spend a few days with MalMham and his family. [To refresh your memory, my mum and his wife are first cousins.] The stay was awful generally, except for one very amusing moment.
You may feel I have gone on and on about how fake their sanctity appears to me. The reason I set that stage is because of that one amusing moment.
My mum and I were sitting in the living room, and we suddenly heard a metallic voice say, “Om Namah Shivaaye,” loudly and repeatedly. Since the members of the family each happened to be elsewhere at that moment, we looked at each other in utter bemusement. This refrain, which is a typical greeting between members of a Shaivaite community, kept on and on. We couldn’t figure out what it was, because it didn’t sound like a bhajan [a devotional song].
Then MalMham’s younger son burst into the room, and asked us why we weren’t answering the door. The refrain was their doorbell! The realisation was so electrifying that we were struck dumb for a few minutes – which was fortunate because he was occupied before the overwhelming urge to shout with laughter came over us.
Hindus can be spiritual people, but this sort of display is certainly not usual. So my mother and I laughed till tears came.
Fast forward to a few years ago, and my mum’s family were attending a wedding. The groom was MalMham’s wife’s brother’s son, and therefore also my mother’s cousin, once removed. [In India though, they are referred to as nephews and nieces.]
Of course, MalMham was in attendance, and so were my parents. My father didn’t speak Marathi or Kannada, so he interacted with my mother’s family in mostly Hindi. And again, he is so different from what they are used to that 38 years of marriage had not made them comfortable around him. My father, however, had no such difficulty. He just interacted with them, with a slight air of amusement. [I think they realised that he really couldn’t care less about them.]
At the wedding reception, my mum was sitting opposite MalMham and my dad. My dad, after having heard the story about the doorbell several times, turned to MalMham, and with barely concealed glee, said, “Om Namah Shivaaye!”
I wasn’t there to witness this, but my mother has described it in great detail. MalMham sank into his chair, deflated with annoyance and impotence. He knew my father was teasing, but didn’t have the wherewithal to respond. My mother sat in complete stupefaction, torn between wanting to laugh desperately and wanting smack my father hard for being cheeky.
I had no such compunction. I laughed till the tears came again, and wondered if they ever changed that doorbell.