The Rigours Of Orthodoxy
Tomorrow, my grandfather celebrates the completion of 79 years of existence on this good earth. Being a part of an orthodox Brahmin family, gifts befitting his age – like binoculars to stare at beautiful women from the terrace – are not as encouraged as a special prayer conducted in his name at any temple. I was just talking to him, and I didn’t know whether to smile weakly or to laugh nervously when my cousins, aunt, uncle and grandma all eagerly planned a trip to the temple tomorrow morning while he groaned with disappointment. He himself seemed to be against the ritual.
Earlier, civic planning was only of one kind: houses would be arranged around a central temple in the form of a garland just like furniture in the living room is pointed at the TV. Even if someone turned 100 (abominably auspicious) not paying a visit to the temple could be considered rude (by fellow theists).
If anything, religion is outdated. Severely. Thatha (Tamil for grandpa) can’t stress himself, let alone walk through the thronging streets in the morning sun and humidity, but he has no choice. At the temple, to mark the commencement of the first day of his 80th year (an auspicious age), mama (uncle) paid Rs. 800 for an hour-long ritual. For two reasons, such a sum of money for such an occasion is staggering. The first reason’s that we’re not all that well-to-do and the second’s that 800 rupees can go a long way, such as paying for a week’s worth of supplies to feed a family of seven. However, all of that is no excuse as we’re all bound by ritualistic duties. Apparently, the gods won’t arrange for opportunities and, let’s face it, what can he do when all the destinies are in place?
As much as until about 60-70 years ago, when the market economy wasn’t all that consumerist, nuclear families in this part of the country were almost unheard of; to split away from the joint groups was close to being uncomfortably blasphemous. In such a time, a household consisted of not a woman, but women. According to the Hindu way of life – only made more excruciating by being overtly obedient to it – women whose time of the month it is were and are forbidden from entering the kitchen or the dining rooms. Of course, a joint family could handle that well: there were always other women to assist with the chores. In the time of the nuclear family, however, once every month, the whole household is thrown into disarray, routines are disrupted and that woman is meted out the same treatment that the Dalits were once subjected to: untouchability.
What this seems to call into question is if religion is all that commensurate with the changing demands of evolution. The evolution I’ve alluded to is definitely not biological but as the technology of the era mutates, so will the genes of the people in that era. It’s a simple argument, really: everything’s been changing for the last 2,000 years, religion hasn’t. It’s demands have remained unchanging, it’s rewards have remained unchanging, it’s liberties have remained unchanging, it’s capacity to provide reason for dispute has remained unchanging.
While imams and pastors are quick to re-interpret the Qur’an and the Bible at the drop of a hat, there has been no initiative from the proctors of orthodoxy to provide for an exclusion from certain rites that would’ve guaranteed survival in 1,000 AD, but in 2,000 AD ensure meaningless survival in a period when sustenance means more.