A Shaheb’s Guide to India
How a simple father-son craft project became a global, epic diorama
Five years ago this month my wife Bidisha and I got married a full Hindu wedding in India. Four years ago our son was born.
This past Thanksgiving while carving the turkey at our Philadelphia home I got to the bone that my granny from rural southwestern Virginia used to save and make into a turkey bone Santa sled decoration at Christmastime every so often. It’s a morbid Appalachian thing, you wouldn’t understand. In a fit of nostalgia I decided I’d give it a whirl and introduce my young son to a part of his cultural history.
To make sure I was really remembering correctly I Googled “turkey bone sled” and one of the first things that came up was someone’s Pinterest page about turkey bone sleds with the header, “My granny made these.” Yep, I was on the right track.
My son and I often do multi-stage, multi-day art projects so I told him we were going to embark on this “small” project. I’m thinking the whole thing will be five or six inches long with a couple of ceremonial reindeer pulling it but he insists that it be the full 9 reindeer, and that there be a full moon, and a Pleiades star cluster (the Seven Sisters), Aldebaran (the brightest star in the constellation Taurus and one of the bull’s eyes), a small pine tree like the one we have in a planter outside our house, and our street sign, and snow on the ground, and hovering in the sky above Santa there should be Kartik. Without missing a beat I told him fine but that he’d need to design it on paper first so we’d know exactly what we were making and not leave anything out.
Kartik? That would be the Hindu god Kartik, less famous brother of Ganesh. Kartik is the Pete Best of major goddess Durga’s children. I later learned it’s impossible to find an altar figurine of just Kartik alone, so I convinced him instead to CONT’D at medium.com>>
Beware, yoga practitioners: your sun salutations and downward dogs might lead to harder things . . . like Hinduism. Father Francesco Bamonte, who heads the Italy-based International Association of Exorcists, warns the world that yoga is a gateway to demonic possession. More in the London Telegraph‘s recent article, ‘Rise of Exorcists in the Catholic Church‘, in which we learn the Vatican has launched a program to train a global strike force of devil exterminators.
I for one am eagerly awaiting Christ-centered Kama Sutra classes.
A Jewish-Hindu connection
Jeffrey Stanley, 7/23/13
Talk about a crazy commute. After a spiritual encounter, a stranger and I spent the next 90 minutes discussing the nature of the universe.
Not so long ago after nearly 25 years as a hidebound New Yorker I moved to Philadelphia for my wife Pia’s career needs, inadvertently becoming part of a popular regional migration known to urban statisticians as the 6th borough phenomenon. She’s Indian-American and we’re raising our child in a bilingual home. I’m a writer and professor. She’s a scientist by day and an Indian classical dance professional by night. Religiously we are at best agnostic but culturally we are Hindus, and will identify ourselves as such when pressed, like on the hospital intake form the first time we took our baby in for a routine doctor’s visit.
This identification sits well with me. Despite growing up Nazarene in the Bible Belt I had long ago developed an affinity for Hindu philosophy—ever since I’d come across a used copy of the Bhagavad Gita at a flea market in high school and realized how similar it was to the New Testament. I still remember the perplexed look on my Sunday school teacher’s face the morning I brought the Gita to church. I had marked the sections that reminded me of Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount with an orange highlighter and asked him why Hindus were all going to Hell and we Christians weren’t. Suffice it say I quit going to church not long after that. Christianity just wasn’t speaking to me. When I met my wife-to-be years later while canoeing in Brooklyn’s fetid Gowanus Canal I fell in easily with her cultural worldview. We were a match made in moksha.
Imagine my surprise when, on a recent Friday afternoon while returning to Philly on a crowded New Jersey Transit train out of Manhattan’s Penn Station I came face to face with the power of YHWH. (continue reading…)
Four Pairs of Sandals as an Act of Faith
Walking a mile in another man’s shoes leads to kismet
by Jeffrey Stanley
Three years ago I got married to my wife Bidisha in a traditional Hindu Bengali ceremony in Kolkata and spent three weeks touring the country. I bought a pair of sandals there which I wore throughout my trip and back home here in the States. This December my wife, our young son and I went back to India for a month to visit relatives. I brought my well-worn “India sandals” with me. A week into the visit they broke irreparably and I tossed them. The location of their demise seemed appropriate — from India they had come and to India they would return. The next day while we were out sightseeing we stumbled upon a tiny shoe store, one of a zillion in Kolkata, where I found the perfect pair of replacement sandals. They were simple but unique enough that they suited me as a souvenir.
A few days later I struck out on my own for a sightseeing visit Nakhoda Masjid, the largest mosque in Kolkata, built in 1926. A billboard told me with no intended irony that this was Road Safety Week in India. Still the taxis, auto-rickshaws and pedestrians were up to their usual danse macabre.
After a requisite insane cab ride and a short walk down a crowded, narrow street full of screaming sidewalk merchants selling Muslim prayer rugs and other Islam-themed souvenirs I found the mosque. It was sparsely populated at that late morning hour. The (continue reading…)