My 16 month old daughter likes to hang out at the family pooja area. When I say hang out, I mean it quite literally. I’m not talking about her piously putting her hands together and saying ‘namnam’ (as she was taught to by her proud grandma). That was so two months ago. Now, she chills out with the old Raja Ravi Varma prints (many of which belonged to my grandfather, and some to his father before him) and chats with them. She says ‘Hi aunty’ and ‘Hi uncle’, and so as to not be age-ist and leave out the more youthful deities, she also adds ‘Hi anna‘ and ‘Hi akka‘.
At first, we were all a little unsure as to how to react. It seemed wrong, somehow, that she didn’t realise that these aunties and uncles and annas and akkas were different from those she saw otherwise, the people she met everyday or saw in newspapers and magazines (she’s quite the little reader, and goes through the paper and any magazines lying around end to end, greeting all the men and women and children in the photos and ads politely). I tried saying, “No kanna, this is not aunty and uncle, it’s umachi. Say ‘umachi namnam’.” After several prompts, she did, but you could tell her heart wasn’t in it. It was a going-through-the-motions kinda namnam, and then she went right back to saying ‘hi’, stopping just short of high-fiving the pictures (she did wave, though). I let it go then. I realised that, hey, this is why we give God anthropomorphic forms, right? To make Him more accessible to us? So if my baby likes to hang out with Lakshmi Devi, Lord Shiva et al, gazing at them interestedly for several minutes, and blowing them kisses, well, more power to her. Maybe it’s the beginning of a deep, lifelong love of religion. Or of vintage Ravi Varma paintings. Who knows.
Still, this morning, when she applied her new-found knowledge of parts of the human body to the deities, and said ‘Knee!’ after regarding a picture of Lord Ganesha thoughtfully for some time, it was a little disconcerting. By the time she’d worked her way down to the feet and toes, I’d gotten used to it. Trying to pull the paintings down and give them ‘huggies’, though, that’s still a no-no.