On a recent (fully (extended)) family holiday, the little ducklings met a new cousin (aged 5) who greeted them with a catchy little song he seemed to have composed just for them. It went something like this: “Sai Baba, Sai Baba, Saieeeeee Babababa Ba Ba.”
Sai Baba is perhaps modern India’s second best known holyman (after the Beatles made the Maharishi super cool in the sixties). He sits on a spectrum of belief, somewhere between avatar and charlatan.
My father fervently (in fact religiously) believes that Sai Baba is The Avatar, and I’m not talking about the blockbuster. This is a belief he tried to indoctrinate us (my brother and I) with as children, and when we moved in with my parents last year, he shared this belief with my own children.
I don’t know if Sai Baba is The Avatar (or a charlatan for that matter). But when my little nephew tried to taunt my children in front of their other cousins, making them laugh with his song, it made me very upset. No one likes to see their children laughed at or feeling confused, especially when they are meeting a new social group for the first time and establishing new relationships. We’ve been doing so much of that lately, since we moved to Sydney 2 months ago, and it is exhausting.
I think for me, it was also that the children are beginning to establish their relationship with God and religion, and the shaping of that relationship is as sensitive to the teasing of a young cousin as it is to the teachings of my father.
In the year that we lived in Canberra with my parents, my Appa did his best to crash course the children in Hinduism, the unifying message of world religions and classic science fiction movies. Heavy going? Sometimes, and sometimes just a glimpse into how our children “see” God.
Secundo recently remarked that there were not enough photos of him together with Mummy and Daddy. Actually, there are not enough photos of him or any of the others after Prima, but that’s what happens when you are second, third and fourth. His point was that he wanted to be in photos with us. Prima comforted him with, “Well [Secundo], in all of these photos of me and Mummy, you are with God, and God is in Mummy’s heart, so actually you were with Mummy all along.”
Secundo and I had to agree with this infallible theo-logic and I was amazed that Prima, aged only 7, had applied the Advaita principle of oneness with God, that it takes most Hindus a lifetime to understand (I still don’t get it).
Of course, the Devil can quote scripture for his own ends. The next time I tried to scold Prima for some domestic infringement, she reminded me that God was within her, she was God and I shouldn’t scold God as God wouldn’t like that.
What in God’s name can you say to that? I should have said God wouldn’t whinge incessantly if He wasn’t allowed to watch High School Musical on a school night. I only thought of that one afterwards.
Secundo’s religious fascination is with death and rebirth. He announces or asks in strange places (eg. Chatswood Westfield) and at strange times (eg. first thing in the morning (ie. 5:30am)):
“When the world ends, it will be born again won’t it?; When we die our spirit will still live like Obi Wan Kenobi won’t it? Hindus get cremated like Jedis don’t they?”
For a 5 year old, he seems uncannily comfortable with the Hindu concept of Maya, the temporal nature of our bodies and our world, and the permanent nature of the (Supreme) soul (as set out in Chapter 7 of the Bhagavad Gita and Episode IV of Star Wars).
And then there is Terecero, aged 2, who sneaks into my father’s daily personal yoga routine and copies him. One old duck in a sagging sarong and one baby duck in a sagging nappy, each saluting the Sun. We took the children to the temple one last time before we left Canberra, where Tercero wowed the old grannies by showing them his yoga: the Mountain pose, the Cobra pose, Downward Facing Dog, and then his personal composition which involves posing on all fours and lifting one leg into the air – we like to call this one Urinating Dog. We were all so proud.
I am not sure what Newborn’s religious predilections will be, he’s barely one. However, as he has spent a lot of time with me during a very stressful year of transition, I suspect his first words will be religious ones. For example: “What in God’s name is going on? Jesus bloody Christ, Mary Mother of God, Sweet Jesus, For the love of God, God damnit….” Newborn will be able to swear religiously and prolifically – to my Christian friends, I am sorry I swear in Christian but Hindus can’t swear to save their lives (“Holy Cow”? – come on people.)
Since living with my father, I can see the children’s religious views developing. When we left London, one of their favourite games was to act out the Nativity. Yes, the Nativity. Now, they act out a hybrid version of the Nativity and that great Hindu epic, the Ramayana. In this tale, instead of going directly to the ancient kingdom of Lanka to rescue the Princess Sita (Prima), the monkey warrior Hanuman (Secundo) flies from India to John Lewis, London where he picks up a Nintendo DS, which he then takes to Bethlehem to give to the Baby Jesus (convincingly portrayed by Tercero). Baby Jesus receives his gift with the following words, “I am sick, I want Catapol.” Catapol is not the Sri Lankan version of frankincense or myrrh. It is the (mispronounced) English brand of children’s panadol (Calpol) that my hypochondriac little son of God is addicted to.
The four little ducklings are young. They are starting their physical journey through the world and a spiritual journey that they may embrace or ignore. Until they make their choices and sense what they know, feel or believe about God, I don’t want them thinking that the contemplation of God, the search for God, is uncool. That is why I especially didn’t like them being teased by my nephew that day.
As I said, I don’t know or care if Sai Baba is the Avatar (or a charlatan), but I like the biriyani of messages and values he has stir-fried together from the religions of the world. His basic teachings are often set out in catchy little phrases that could be converted into fridge magnets. Let me paraphrase:
(a) God is one but different people call him by different names and take different paths to reach him (Him, Her, It etc);
(b) the best way to serve God is to serve mankind; and
(c) be nice to every one because if you don’t karma will bite you on the arse.
So, whilst our children are choosing their spiritual path (or not), if Sai Baba, my Appa, Obi Wan or husband and I can get the above through to the four little ducklings, then that really would be cool.
Shankari Chandran is a recent returner after ten years in London. Formerly a social justice lawyer Shankari chronicles the day-to-day of her family’s return in her blog.
How did you establish your religion as a child? If you have children, what will you be teaching them?