Some of the changes that I made to myself in the context of religion were perhaps even more noteworthy than changes I made to other aspects of my lifestyle.
Born in a conservative Brahmin (an orthodox Hindu caste) family, I was the black sheep in many ways.
But one aspect that really stuck out was my rather careless attitude towards the Hindu religion. My paternal grandfather was a temple head-priest and most males in my family even today spend a large portion of their time outside work at the local temple. For my family, including amma, religion is a very important part of their lives.
I am an agnostic, and at times could even appear to be an atheist.
Until amma’s recurrent aortic dissection, I was hardly at home, and even while there, only occasionally interacted with her. But once I started getting close to her, she started pushing her religious beliefs on me.
At first, I resisted. But after a few months, I realized that I actually liked religion, especially Hinduism, as that is the one I’m most familiar with.
Call it confirmation bias, but I felt that neither an agnostic nor an atheist needs to hate religion – doubting and not believing are not the same as not liking! 92
In my heretic opinion, I may consider religions as man-made constructs, but I also feel that these artificial constructs play a critical and valuable role in steering humans in the right direction.
If we are what we are with religion, I shudder to think what we will be without it.
So, I was malleable. When amma started pressuring me to practise many Brahminical practices, I adopted a few of them. It pleased her, and I was quite willing to live in a “willing suspension of disbelief”. 93
A small compromise.
I started performing Sandhyavandhanam, 94 a ritual that amongst others also comprised pranayama, a valuable breathing exercise that many yoga teachers prescribe worldwide. So here was the double reward for my flexibility – happiness for one, health for another!
I was also inducted into a few other rituals by amma that included reciting slokas (Hindu holy verses) every day. In addition, I agreed to amma’s suggestion and started applying a vermilion streak on my forehead every day morning. I applied this to amma and appa too everyday. It was a simple act in which I went close to her face and swiped a 2-inch thin silver stick that had been dipped in vermilion across her forehead. The entire process took perhaps 3 seconds but its value to amma was very high – and the fact that I did it for her gave her immense satisfaction everyday.
There’s a powerful, indefinable satisfaction that such a combination of physical proximity and cherished action brings forth.
Sometimes, after I applied the streak on amma’s face, I would tell amma that she looked like Jayalalithaa, 95 a former chief minister of our state and a strong-willed lady. Just like amma, she also had the vermilion streak on her forehead, and interestingly she was popularly called amma by her admirers and followers.
Anyone who had looked at my lifestyle before and after amma’s recurrent aortic dissection would have thought that I had gotten religion. I had not really gotten religion, but surely got quite close to it.
I remain an agnostic, but an agnostic who has also enjoyed many valuable flavours of, and benefits from Hinduism, thanks to amma.
Fig 26: Liking and believing: I remain a skeptic when it comes to religion, but my liking for Hinduism has certainly increased in the last few years, thanks to many religious activities I started doing to please amma.
92. The most obvious proof for this concept are fictional stories and movies that you like.
93. The philosopher poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge introduced the term “suspension of disbelief” in the context of the literary world. He felt that readers would willingly suspend their critical judgement and believe fantasies if writers could blend the human element with a semblance of truth in these stories.
95. Jayalalithaa Jayaram, one of the most charismatic Indian political leaders in the past 30 years, was the chief minister of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu multiple times. Depending on the political leaning, she was considered either controversial or caring. But almost everyone agreed that she was dominant and determined to have her way – I can see traces of amma here.
Read Amma the fun way!
Do you know that you can read specific chapters alone of Amma depending on who you are and what interests you? So, we have selected chapters that could be of interest to young, middle-aged and old men & women, to medical and white collar professionals, to those wishing to know specifically about heart problems, blood pressure or leg ailments, medical management of seniors & elders, and even those interested in reading some fun and humour.
We even have a treasure hunt designed for you to ferret out 100+ interesting facts.