Saturday, March 22, 2014

Meeting a Hindu Priest

So, the daughter had her traditional naming ceremony today, in accordance with specifications laid down by her grandparents. One of the requirements in a successful "naming" is a priest - and one such was imported from a local temple to oversee the ceremony.

The aforementioned importation was performed in a vehicle driven by yours truly, and this essentially implied that I got to spend 1 hour with a person I have absolutely nothing in common with. I won't lie - I was a bit nervous at this prospect, as I do come off as abrasive occasionally. I wanted to be on my best behavior to make sure this gentleman felt comfortable in my company. And  I think I managed to pull it off.

Of course, out of respect for his privacy, I won't be naming him or his temple. I will however minute out my chat with him, as I believe this chauferring business today was a field trip in anthropology.

The first thing that struck me about this gentleman is that he was very polite and sweet.

He hails from a fairly large metropolis in south India - and has performed 5 years of higher education in vedic scriptures. He has a rural background - his family earns farms near said metro.

He has spent a few years in the US, most of them in the valley of the sun. He currently lives in the temple campus in Arizona. He hasn't assimilated much at all - he depends on volunteers to take him around town. This presumably includes trips to walmart for groceries and keepsakes (read: chocolates). He does not have a driver's license - he has not even tried to get one as  his boss has forbidden him from driving. His only interaction with non-indian americans for any meaningful discussion duration has been with a bunch of local students who dropped by to understand how south indians perform rituals.

He works a lot every week - gets about a day off. However, he clearly enjoys what he does, so he appears to be in good humor. However, he is trying to get married - but he complains that "girls only want software engineers as husbands".

He will be in India next month - right in time for the generals. He backs the BJP  - primarily because the BJP has taken a strong stand against cow slaughter in India. He is optimistic that Modi will be the new prime minister. He was particularly appalled when I informed him that India was the world's largest exporter of beef. He is a die-hard vegetarian and mentioned that Humans don't need to eat meat - unlike a lion, needs to eat the deer by natures' decree.

His views on other religions seem to be uninformed and even naive. When I asked him if he ever entered a church in the US - possibly as an exercise of intellectual curiosity, he said he absolutely did not. His views on islam were particularly naive in my opinion - he felt that almost all violence in the world seemed to have an islamic origin (apparently MH370 had a muslim pilot and the boston marathon bombers were muslims). I did point out that his views were not empirically valid - and told him that some of my best friends are Muslims.

All said and done it was an interesting experience to chat with this gentleman.  One particularly sobering realization based on this discussion was regarding how easy it is to misinform people and whip up a lynch mob (a-la-2002) based on what he feels regarding islam.

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