Fashionably Devout

Like many a middle-aged parent, I've returned to my religion. Is it about giving kids stability or keeping up with the Ramans?

BY: Shoba Narayan


Recently, I had an epiphany of the sort one normally experiences in middle age: I realized that, within my social circle, religion had become quite fashionable.

Many of my friends are middle-aged Hindu Indians with successful careers and at least two children. Like me, they came to this country over a decade ago, usually carrying nothing more than a suitcase and a few hundred dollars. Hunger, drive, ambition, talent, and hard work had helped them climb the professional ladder and become financially comfortable, if not wealthy. Now that they had achieved a measure of material success, they applied themselves with the same conscientiousness to raising their children. They wanted to offer their kids the best of the East and West: Eastern tranquility combined with Western go-getting. So we return to the temple.

Last weekend, for instance, I stood before the bronze idol of the elephant god Ganesh at the Hindu temple in Queens, muttering incoherent Sanskrit chants as I clutched the hands of my four-year-old daughter, Ranjini. The temple bells were clanging. Bejewelled women clad in aquamarine and maroon saris rustled by to gain better vantage points. The bare-torsoed Brahmin priest circled a camphor lamp around the idol. The entire congregation clapped their hands and raised their voices in unison as they sang the Hindu song, "Jai Jagdeesh Hare."

I felt like an impostor, a film extra caught in the middle of a strange, surrealistic set. I was part of the scene, yet I wasn't. What was I doing, wearing a parrot green sari, surrounded by Hindu devotees, singing snatches of a song I barely knew? I had become a born-again Hindu, that's what.

Nowadays, on Sundays, instead of chilling out with a ginkgo shake and the newspaper at my local whole-food bakery, I drag my daughter to the temple. Instead of wearing figure-hugging designer clothes, I wear voluminous saris that conceal my stretch marks and love-lumps. I don't scoff at tradition; I attempt to follow it. I have turned into someone I had sworn I would never become: a Hindu mom.

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