This was going to be my "return" post to SM, after my unplanned hiatus.
It took an unexpected direction from where I thought it would go, so I no longer felt like posting it there.
This entry, which is a response to an anonymous tip one of you was kind enough to mail in, was supposed to be about Nick Nolte; apparently, he no longer feels the desire to drink alcohol because his baby mama Clytie Lane reintroduced him to Hare Krishna chanting and drum circling. Nick's current tee totaling is quite a contrast to his relationship with alcohol less than a year ago, when he was so drunk, he took a two-hour nap on an airport floor (and really, who among us hasn't done that? No? Just me? Fine.)
After over two months away from blogdom, my feeble attempts to do a bit of research on the story have demonstrated to me that my already lilliputian attention span is even tinier now, since all I can fixate on is the comments/response to Celebitchy, the blog whose link was submitted as the anonymous tip. Most of the commenters objected to the title and tone of the post on that site, which referred to Hare Krishnas as a cult and referenced some of the controversy associated with the movement (sexual abuse, brainwashing, murder). Celebitchy responded:
Update: A lot of people from different sources are vouching for the Krishnas and are saying it’s not fair to judge them based on the rampant child abuse at their boarding schools in the 70s and 80s. A similar child abuse scandal happened within the Catholic Church and it is fair criticism to say that I am biased in this article. The ISCON organization has arguably changed considerably since then and is willing to discuss their past issues with cult experts as well as change their practices
Here is a discussion thread I found which I think helps explain my original position on this issue. I would still be reluctant to get involved with a group with this type of history.
I can understand the reluctance, mostly because I've always felt uncomfortable around the saffron-robed disciples, too. My unease was triggered regularly, so it only hardened over time; when I was at GW in 1999, I ate at Amma's daily, and each time I walked from Foggy Bottom to the Mysore Masala Dosa/Semiya Payasam which would be ready without my needing to order it, I religiously saw Hare Krishnas in front of the beautiful, golden-domed Rigg's at the corner of M and Wisconsin, i.e. the busiest spot in all of Hoya-ville.
Even a few years ago, I'd spot them there, just in front of the gates to the bank. I don't know if they've chosen to grace a different part of town with their presence or if they're no longer allowed to make that intersection even more crowded for pedestrians who are trying to cross to Benetton or Lacoste in search of logos we rocked in the 80s, but I haven't seen Hare Krishnas in quite a while.
I don't blame the Georgetown HKs for my skittishness though, I blame their cousins who were at SFO in 1983.
I don't have much "close" family in the United States. I grew up without the benefit of grandparents (deceased) or first cousins (all in India or Gelf) and until 1989, without any of my parents' siblings. It was lonely and one of the things about my childhood which I desperately wish had been different. On the rare occasion when someone visited from Cochin or Abu Dhabi, it was a huge deal, a cause for much excitement and happiness. The day I met my first Hare Krishna was one of those occasions.
My father's favorite nephew was arriving in Amreeka for the first time ever; he was excited about a promised trip to Disneyland, the opportunity to buy Levi's 501s-- and the chance to see his two youngest cousin sisters, who had been all of five and 18-months old when he had swung them around last. We had gone to the airport to pick him up and Daddy was so exultant, when I asked if I could carry the Minolta I was rarely allowed to breathe in the vicinity of, I was rewarded with a camera strap around my neck and one amazing toy in my eager little hands.
"Hell, maybe you should take a picture of your Georgie-chayan when he comes out, would you like that?"
I immediately stripped off the molded leather camera cover and whirled around to my four-year old sister.
"This is really important. You are responsible for Daddy's camera case!"
She nodded at me somberly.
Free of such accoutrements, I carefully removed the lens cap and stuck it in the pocket on the front of my pinafore. We had stopped walking and were now standing and waiting. After a few minutes spent fidgeting impatiently, I wandered a few feet away, so I could pretend I was a photographer. My sister, who liked to shadow my every move, toddled along faithfully. Gingerly lifting the camera and peering through it, I turned slightly, and then saw people with cymbals who were chanting and dancing happily. One of them started walking towards us; he was holding a book.
I looked back at my Dad, but he was anomalously distracted and not paying attention to his progeny; he was too busy half-shouting excitedly with an uncle-who-wasn't-an Uncle, who worked at the airport. Daddy was animated, his rapid-fire Malayalam punctuated by laughter as he and Uncle loudly argued about how deprived my omnivorous Achachan would be, by staying with such a strict vegetarian family. Daddy was so intent on insisting that vegetarian food wouldn't kill anyone, and that meenkari was overrated anyway, that he hadn't noticed who was coming my way.
I lowered the camera, anxiously.
"Hello!" the man trilled.
My sister made like a crab and moved sideways until she was directly behind me. She was spooked. "Orange ghost!" she mumbled.
"Not a ghost, a friend."
The HK spotted the huge 22 karat crosses around our necks and did a double-take.
"You are Christians?!"
I nodded, mutely. My sister, always half a beat late in order to facilitate emulation of whatever I was doing, started nodding vigorously, too. We were like small, dark bobble-heads. I was certain that at any moment, my Father was going to turn around and punch this person for approaching his little girls.
"That's a shame, did your parents convert when they came here?"
I froze. When people asked my father that question, they were immediately rewarded with a 15-minute lecture on St. Thomas the Apostle converting Indians when Europeans were still running around, worshipping trees and beating each other with sticks.
He continued, still smiling beatifically, "I want to give you something. This book is part of who you are-"
I brilliantly blurted out, "I'm not allowed to talk to strangers!", which then confused me, because I realized I just had. I hadn't taken the book.
The man continued to hold it out.
My sister helpfully repeated, "orange ghost!!", a bit more insistent this time.
I apprehensively reached out for "Bhagavad Gita, As it is" while the man beamed at me. He said something final before turning away, to rejoin his flock. My sister's nose was now pressed in to the small of my back. I was overcome with this dire realization that my kundi was about to receive an adi par excellence from my Father, for breaking one of the rules he cared most about-- not. talking. to. strangers.
"Edi, Annay-kutty, nee evade poyee edi?" Daddy was laughing as he called out his question in Malayalam.
"I'm, I mean, entho. I mean, I'm here. I mean...yeah."
Daddy turned his head to frown at me critically.
"Edi mandi, have you forgotten how to speak English?"
His eyes narrowed as he noticed what I was holding.
"Where the HELL did you get that?" he roared.
My sister whimpered, "orange ghost!!!" one final, useless time before attempting to melt in to my spine and ass.
"Who told you to take that? Haven't I taught you ANYTHING?"
Daddy was livid. He snatched the book from my hands and looked as if he was about to throw it out, in the orange garbage can which was conveniently located just feet from us-- but then he stopped, and ranted about how it was still a book, after all. Indecision about how to dispose of the offending tome only enraged him more. He charged the Hare Krishnas, and the ghost stepped forward, his celestial smile intact.
"Who the hell are you to talk to my children and give them propaganda? If I want my children to be Hindu, I will teach them myself, without the assistance of some hippie in an airport. You think you know more about Hinduism than me? Go to hell. This is like buying cloth from England which was made from Indian cotton! Unnecessary! Insulting!"
"Perhaps you should keep the book, it may allow you to reconnect with the faith you were born--"
"Reconnect what? My family has been Christian for 1931 years! Remove yourself from your cult and get an education! Not every Indian is Hindu, you crazy son of a bitch."
And with that, my father grabbed my upper arm and hustled me away. I frantically grabbed for Veena and got one of her overall straps.
"What did I tell you about talking to strangers, edi? Ay? You disobedient girl. Don't you ever accept something from someone else, not a book, not a candy, NOTHING."
My non-Uncle intervened, with a voice which was both soothing and conciliatory. "Thampychayan she's just a child, she didn't know."
"OH, she KNOWS. And she'll remember too, after her punishment."
I cringed. I had the strictest Father around. I was fairly certain that my bottom would be sore by the end of the evening, but sometimes, when my Father was in an extra-creative mood, he'd devise "consequences" which were pure affliction, with none of the spanking. I preferred the beating, any day. Better to get it over with.
Ten minutes later, after he arrived looking exhausted but excited, Georgie-chayan couldn't understand why my father was grinding his teeth, nor could he figure out why his two youngest cousins were so forlorn. Preoccupied by what lay in store for me, I forgot to take his picture, even though I was still clutching Daddy's SLR.
When I got home, I was ordered to my bedroom while my father shouted at my mother, his preferred method of informing her of our iniquity. Immediately after that, my father walked in to my room, picked my children's bible off the shelf and ordered me to show him the Ten Commandments.
Shaking, I took hold of my second holy book for the day and opened it, wordlessly. After a few seconds, I found the correct page. I stared at the Decalogue, waiting.
"What is number five?"
"Honor thy father and mother."
"Don't mumble. What is it?"
"Honor thy father and mother."
My father stepped backwards and opened the top drawer of my desk, which had been his, years ago, when he was a student fresh from India. He saw that it was filled with an assortment of My Melody and Little Twin Stars paraphernalia, a few pairs of Barbie's high-heeled, open-toed sandals collected in the little glitter suitcase which used to be my Hello Kitty stamp set and one pink diary with a brass lock.
He shoved it closed and tried the drawer beneath; this time, he took it out a large stack of paper and shut it less forcefully, since it had contained his quarry. He placed the paper on top of my desk, withdrew a pen from the box on top of it where they lay jumbled and handed the instrument to me.
Calmly, he said, "Write that two-hundred times."
"The fifth commandment. If your penmanship is sloppy, it won't count towards the 200, so take your time, edi. I'll check on you later."
Miserably, I got up from my bed and trudged towards the desk. Unbelievable. Why couldn't I just get hit? Outside, I could hear my sister squealing gleefully as the closest thing I had to the older brother I had always wanted tossed her around and dangled her by her ankles. I was consumed by frustration at the injustice of the situation. I hadn't wanted to talk to the damned orange ghost. He should get my punishment, not me.
I sat down, picked up the pen and paused, staring at the unblemished paper. Someone was coming, I could hear them in the hall. I looked up and there was Georgie-chayan, with Veena sitting on his shoulders.
"What are you waiting for? Do what Daddy said, then we can play. I didn't come all this way to just do this," he said, abruptly grabbing Veena under the shoulders and sending her head-first for the floor, where he let her dangle so low her silky baby hair grazed it. She chortled.
"I want to drop you, too!"
I nodded woefully. The far-too-fun duo left my room and I heard my father yell at them to not disturb me. I sighed. This was going to be a long, wretched few hours. I commenced writing. My hand started to move faster, but the admonishment about neatness replayed in my head and I wrote more carefully. At number 181 or so, I felt defeated and I put my face down on the paper, and fell asleep.
When I woke up, there was a third holy book near me, next to the ruled binder paper I had misused as a pillow. It was old, the corners were worn and it smelled of dust. I carefully opened the cover and saw "The Bhagavad Gita" spelled out in letters which rested on serifs. There was something barely visible in the top right corner of the yellowing paper, which was slightly translucent. When I turned the page, I saw my father's full name, written in his bold, block-lettered handwriting. I was confused; why had he given me the same book he almost threw away?
"Latha Antharjanam, if you want to study Hinduism, you don't need a white man or a cult to enlighten you. That crazy man is not even a real Hindu."
I hadn't even realized Daddy was standing there.
"Besides, Hare Krishnas are Vaishnavas. Your ancestors worshipped both Vishnu and Shiva. Damnit, If you are going to be a Hindu, at least be accurate about it."
* A note about the title: my father called me this in a joking, affectionate way because Namboodiri women went to the temple and the homes of family members, and that was it. Similarly, I was not allowed to run around outside or go to many places outside of church and a few friends' homes. Unlike those women, this had nothing to do with religion or anything else. "My children will not run wild!", I heard, over and over again, along with, "good girls stay inside the house!". As has been pointed out in the comments below, "antharjanam" means "people inside the house". So you see, this isn't some high caste-hangover, mang. :)