Encounters of the Upanayana Kind- Part 2
The process of ANY Hindu ceremony inevitably involves waking up at least 4 hours (or in the Vatu’s case, 12 hours) before your usual wake up time. So now you know where the Vatu’s problems started. Waking up early in the morning and being expected to stay hungry for over 5 hours after waking up was not exactly high on the Vatu’s agenda. But, as with the way things were going for him, the Vatu knew better than to argue this time around. And thus started the day when the Vatu would eventually make the transition from Vatu-ism to becoming a Brahmachari.
The “ceremony” started off with the same self righteous Shastrigalu (priest) with the same 2 sidekicks continuing where they left off with the “Pleasing of the Gods”. This time, the GOD referred to a small fire or HOMA as it is called in Hindu circles. The ceremony immediately ensuing the Vatu’s awakening (from sleep that is, not the spiritual thing) involved pouring miniature amounts of ghee and oil onto the fire every time the Shastrigalu ended a sequence of necessarily undecipherable sounds with a prominent and loud “SWAAHA!”, at which point even his 2 sidekicks would join in with a loud “SWAAHA!” of their own. Three very distinct things seem to take place with the sidekicks every time they joined in with their own loud “SWAAHA!”.
- It appeared that saying “SWAAHA!” was as close to exciting as they ever got.
- Their lives seemed to get some meaning and purpose every time they chanted SWAAHA!
- Their self esteem seemed to undergo a delta increment, which I believe was a direct consequence of 2.
But now back to the Vatu. The Vatu was also expected to undergo the process of Mathrubhojana, which loosely translates to “dining with your mother.” This happens to be an event wherein the Vatu and his mother are expected to have their breakfast served on the same banana leaf. Also, the Vatu is to be actually “fed” by his mother with her bare hands. The idea behind this process, I believe, lies in implying that this is going to be the last meal that the Vatu (child) shares with his mother. The Vatu did eventually agree to undergo this seemingly ridiculous procedure, largely due to his hunger breaking tolerable levels.
Now there is one aspect of a thread ceremony that every single guy wishes to avoid. This is the shaving of the head. In olden days, this involved shaving the entire head except for a small round patch of hair at the very top and centre of the head that was to be left untouched. This would render a half-ponytail kind of a look to the Vatu. However, with the passage of time and the demands of modern society and the preferences of young boys of this age, this criteria was relaxed to just a few strands of hair taken from right above the forehead in such a way that it is hard to spot anything out of place. My own thread ceremony involved this and so did the two previously mention dudes’ and most of the other boys in the family. At this point, it is relevant to reveal some more facts about the Vatu.
The Vatu is widely acknowledged in the family to possess hair of the highest quality. And the Vatu likes his hair. He totally despises people meddling with his hair in any form, including just running their fingers through his hair. The Vatu also delays visiting the barber shop because he likes to keep his hair (it is also sometimes attributed to the Vatu’s inherent laziness).
The Vatu was then promptly asked by the self righteous priest to shave his entire head for the half-ponytail look.
Practically the entire congregation present there went WTF??!!??!? The Vatu just presumed that the priest is only suggesting the option of reverting back to the practices of olden days, as a show of good faith. And hence, quite a few of the family members spoke to the priest (whose self-righteousness level had increased significantly) to convey the fact that it is not a practical suggestion as the Vatu is likely to travel around. But much to the surprise of all the family members advocating the loss of fewer strands of hair, the priest just refused to budge from his initially stated position. At this point, more family members began to join the cause for loss of lesser hair while some sadistic and hypocritical aunts simultaneously teamed up to counter it. Their argument was essentially based around the age old “we-should-not-give-up-our-customs-and-traditions-even-if-they-don’t-mean-shit-today” diatribe. But amidst all the shoutings and counter-shoutings of family members of the female kind, the Vatu just went even more WTF??!?? The reason? The self-righteous priest with a pronounced smug, had just resorted to direct and open blackmail about his preferences! He had simply declared that unless the Vatu shaves his head fully with just a half pony tail dangling from the centre of his skull, he the priest would stop the ceremony and just leave!
Yes now even you, the reader, can go WTF??!!??
So as you could have expected, the Vatu did end up having his head shaved and did have a small patch of hair on the top of his skull with some hair dangling around more than the others. This seemed to feed the priest’s ego and arrogance as he continued to direct the proceedings with more vigor and attitude. ( Of course, all this time, the sidekicks were just fantasizing the day when they would be in a position to make someone lose more hair just by blackmail!)
However, the remarkable redundancy the priest seemed so keen to exhibit did not end there. He took the Vatu on a trip to show him the sun. That’s right. He helped the Vatu to spot the sun on a cloudless day at 11 in the morning! (Go Figure). The priest “explained” that the Sun contained GODS and so it was important to look at the sun during an auspicious event like a thread ceremony. This was later followed by the priest ‘educating’ the Vatu about the relevance and importance of chanting the Gayatri Mantra. This essentially included a story about how a small boy was able to make an idol of a Goddess move from one place to another just by talking to it while old priests couldn’t do it themselves (the explanation being that the small boy used to chant the said mantra a lot). However, the issue of why the Vatu would ever be interested in moving the idol of a Goddess in the first place was never raised.
Coming back to the ceremony itself, after donning the sacred thread, it was now time for the “enlightenment” of the Vatu by revealing the sacred Gayatri Mantra to him. The Vatu’s father was expected to do the honors with the priest guiding him (read directing him) all the way. The actual revelation process involved making the Vatu sit on top of his father’s lap while his father whispered the erstwhile mantra in his ear! And as the Mantra was being revealed to the Vatu, all the “guests”, who had so far been involved in intellectually stimulating activities such as passing comments and judgments on people they meet only on such occasions, were called into action and they promptly obliged by throwing yellow powder-flavored raw rice grains (also known as Akshathe) at the Vatu with purposeful missile throwing actions. Of course, the Vatu was no more a Vatu as he had stepped up a rung on the Brahminical ladder and was now officially declared a Brahmachari (celibate till marriage).
YAY! I guess…..
Of course the end of the Upanayana only meant the end of the Upanayana. It did NOT imply the end of the pursuit of redundant practices. And so the Brahmachari found himself in front of a large banana leaf meal, expected to finish every bit of it after having gone through the pre-meal ritual of water-sprinkling and food donation to God (Go Figure). Surrounding him were fellow Brahmacharis including the dude who felt at home donning the Adige Bhatru (Cooks’) Uniform and carrying out their activities. The first meal the Brahmachari has must be in the company of fellow Brahmacharis of the family and Yours Truly was expected to be one of them. But rest assured, all precautionary measures were taken for my notable absence during the lunch ceremony.
And finally, the Vatu-turned-Brahmachari found himself done with all the inane rituals and simply ‘escaped’ to his home nearby. But alas, his father who spotted his son’s absence and MY presence, gave me the ultimatum to drag his son back to the ritual arena- if it came to that- as some of his office colleagues had decided to show up exactly at the lunch time. And so I found myself convincing my cousin to show up back at the ritual arena, which thankfully he did oblige, thus saving me a possible tricky situation to cope with.
More random family introductions followed for the Brahmachari with most of the conversations following the following pattern:
Brahmachari’s Father (extremely excited): This is my <insert random family relation position> who shows up only on occasions like these.
Random Relative: Do you remember me? I had seen you last at your naming ceremony or <insert other random relative>’s marriage! You were so small then! Look at you now! All grown up and all!!
Brahmachari (thinking and faking a smile): Somebody please put me out of my misery…
Eventually, the Brahmachari found his way back to his house for a much deserved break, courtesy a bike ride from Yours Truly. After some insightful conversation into the working of the hindu practices amongst ourselves, the Brahmachari’s father came home with more of his colleagues who had showed up a little later. After more random introductions, there was an uneasy silence that was hanging in the room when the Brahmachari’s father decided to introduce me in the following way:
“This is Akshay. He is….errr….umm….err…..” “I am the Brahmachari’s cousin” I finished. The father continued “He is doing his Masters in States!” I gave a Hello smile to everyone present there who returned the gesture. But then one person decided to go further and make an ass out of himself. Out of nowhere, he quipped “So you are with Samsung is it?” Well first I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to convey but then I realized the true WTFness involved. You see, I, being a hardcore Chelsea supporter, was wearing a Chelsea jersey which as you may know carries the logo of SAMSUNG in the front and the number 8 and the name Lampard at the back. And this douchebag kinda presumed that I was somehow “with Samsung”. I immediately clarified saying “No no this is just a Football jersey. I am still studying” which I believe he never really quite understood.
But perhaps, the most remarkable piece of conversation that took place during the entire thread ceremony was between the Brahmachari and his father towards the fag end of the day when almost everyone had left. This conversation perfectly epitomizes the present state of the stereotypical Indian nuclear family with regard to keeping in touch with other family members. The Brahmachari’s father came rushing into the door with a clear purpose in mind and appeared to be in no mood to be disobeyed. He found the Brahmachari and immediately instructed, “Come down now itself. X is waiting for you!”
Brahmachari: (WTF???!??) Who is X?
Father: X is Son of Y.
Brahmachari: (WTF???!???!!) Who is Y?
Father: Y is my <Insert Generally unknown Kannada Family Relation Terminology> who you get to meet only on occasions like these! Now come down and meet X.
Brahmachari (thinking): WTF??!!??
I, of course, was just left speechless! But more was to come from the stereotypical Hindu religious ceremony. My cousin and I later learnt that there had been an altercation between the Adige Bhatru (cooks) and the organizers of the ceremony regarding the (lack of) quality of the lunch and breakfast. And the altercation had apparently taken on the physical component as well with one of the organizing committee members (read random short tempered relative) (almost) slapping one of the cooks for bad mouthing the Brahmachari’s father! This having taken place at the ritual arena, both my cousin and I missed watching it first hand and regretted not having spent more time at the arena.
Random Observation: There was this one 50-odd year old dude who (I had never seen in my life before) just showed up at the ritual arena, looked around, sat for a while, ate lunch and then promptly left! So to put it in the cliched form, He Came, He Ate, He Left! The surprising aspect was that apparently this dude was actually invited!
And thus ended my encounters with a typical Hindu religious ceremony. 2 days where I witnessed the most inane and redundant of what Hinduism has to offer in terms of practices and customs. 2 days when I saw how judgmental and hypocritical relatives tend to be. 2 days when I met some of the most awesome characters my family has to offer (including and especially the two recurring dudes). And as far as the Brahmachari is concerned, well, it took him all of 2 days to pay a visit to the barber and have his half pony tail shaved off, thus revealing a uniformly bald skull. And it was also later revealed that the Brahmachari had initially made a deal with his parents that he would obey them completely for a duration of 4 days for which they would have to give him whatever he may ask for. Last I heard, the Quid Pro Quo was still yet to be determined.