Indian Expat Parent: A Lesson in Nonviolence

goddess-durga-qm05_lThis month is a month of contradictions, so to speak. It is the month of Gandhi Jayanthi’s, or Gandhi’s, birthday and the celebration of the death of two demons in Hindu Mythology.

Oct. 2 was Gandhi Jayanthi. Oct. 14, Dusshera.

Since the 2nd came before the 14th (lucky for us) we started off sharing a lot of details about Gandhi with DD. After successfully explaining to her that we do not have a stepfather of the nation just because Gandhi is dead, she was finally interested in knowing more about the man whom we refer to as the Father of her country.

We told her about Gandhi’s nonviolent efforts to secure India her independence. We told DD about his ideologies, about why violence is not the answer, even in dire circumstances. DD was of the view that if Superman were an Indian, he would’ve driven the British out and given us the right to choose our own clothes, our own shoes and jewelry.

She did not understand why Gandhi chose to wear only dhoti and made his own clothes.

“He could’ve tried pants, or shorts. You know mamma, sometimes men also wear skirts,” she said.

“Yes, they’re called kilts,” I answered. “But, he chose to wear just the dhoti, because he wanted to protest against the clothes and lifestyle brought by the British. He was proud of being an Indian and wore Indian clothes, clothes made in India, symbolizing our culture too.

“Now, we are free. We can choose what we want to make of our lives.”

“Is that why boys wear pants now?”

“Umm . . . yeah . . . ”

So while the discussion took to clothing, she still did get the concept of Independence and a nonviolent way of life.

And then it was Dusshera. The day celebrated as the victory of Rama (the pious, blue-hued Hindu God), over Ravana (the 10-headed demon). Rama slays Ravana by shooting an arrow into Ravana’s navel  — his only vulnerable spot.

ramnavmiShe learned that Rama did try his best to convince the evil Ravana (who had abducted Sita, Rama’s wife) to ask for forgiveness and mend his evil ways. But, Ravana did not accede. So slaying him was the only way Mother Earth could be relieved of his evil doings.

Ramayana is one of the biggest epics in Hindu mythology. And we grew up with stories of Rama’s pious nature, Ravana’s evil ways, Hanuman’s (the monkey God who helped Rama in his mission to rescue Sita and vanquish Ravana) devotion to Rama and Sita and Lakshmana’s  (Rama’s brother) loyal nature. To us, the story always stood for the victory of good over evil.

Dusshera also signifies Goddess Durga’s victory over Mahishasura, a cruel demon who had a boon that he could not be slayed by a man or a God. So only a woman could overpower him and wipe him off the face of Earth, restoring peace and tranquility to his much tormented subjects.

Durga, the invincible, is a Hindu Goddess born from the confluence of power from the trinity of Gods — Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer) and Shiva (the transformer). She is often depicted as a 10-handed Goddess riding a lion and slaying Mahishasura. Again, this story mainly conveyed the victory of good (Durga) over evil (Mahishasura)

Now, growing up, these were three different stories. Each told at different occasions. Each story was awe-inspiring and magical in its own way.

But this was the first time my husband and I were stumped with what now appears to be an obvious contradiction: Why do we preach and applaud nonviolence, when we worship the gods that were violent?

Within a week, we were sharing two contrasting views with our little girl.

It was quite an opportunity to examine our views and beliefs and examine the inconsistencies in our stories.

When we talk about India’s independence, we talk about the means to the end — to our freedom. When we talk about Dusshera, we talk about the end — the victory of the gods depicting good over demons, depicting evil. And DD was seeing the means in all the stories and so was confused.

We sat down with her and asked her to replace any of the stories she wanted to with what she felt would be the right approach. She first checked with us whether changing any story meant a change in the sweets that were planned for later to celebrate the festival.

Pleased when we assured her the sweets would not be affected, she changed her story.

She made Durga and Ram talk to their foes. She made them follow Satyagraha, or nonviolent resistance, so Mahishasura and Ravan would just realize their mistake and let all the people on Earth lead a safe and secure life.

Realistically speaking, the story hadn’t changed much — it was still good over evil, only the means were not ‘scary’ any more. I am glad she made her choice.

gandhi-with-charkha

193Padmaja Ganeshan-Singh is a new expat from India and a rookie Superwoman. This is her first time managing her family without any help and boy, does she have newfound respect for the American woman. She is the mother of a high-energy preschooler who presents her with the challenges of preserving the culture of her homeland while embracing the culture of her new home in Seattle. From driving on the 'right' side of the road to understanding the craze behind Halloween candy, Padmaja's trying to make meaning out of the madness around her. For a peep into her expat life, check her blog .

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