I am who I am

Clerk: “What is your religion?”

Me (hesitation):”Shakta”

Clerk: “What? I don’t have that here…Put ‘other’?”

Me: “No, no. Hindu is fine”

Clerk: “Awwww, Hindu? Right ok ok.”

It happens every time. Most practitioners of Shaktism I know (Shaktas) just say Hindu to begin with, but I (being me) am never happy to just take the easy route and avoid confusion and endless explanation. I must insist on saying”Shakta” every single time. Why? Because in TnT being Hindu is automatically associated with being a part of the SDMS, and while part of my life does indeed involve mainstream Hinduism, my everyday practice is Shaktism, my go-to is Shaktism, my thoughts centre there, my identity could not be constructed wholely wihout consideration of it.

The fact that official documents still require information as to one’s religious denomination is another issue entirely. What my religious beliefs and practices have to do with applying for a credit card or enrolling in school is beyond me.

But I digress, my issue today lies with being forcefully categorised into like groupings due to expedience or ignorance. Why is the question of your religious belief a close-ended one? Why can we not simply state our system of beliefs and have it written down as is, sans judgement? (Assuming of course that we as a society are not ready to just leave the question out.)

This penchant for grouping is directly related to our colonial history that worked to systematically segregate and oppress Caribbean people. If we intend to move forward as one people, as we claim  so often to be, then simple things such as categorization on forms and applications need to be restricted or ended altogether. Categories such as race, age, sex, and religion have or should have no bearing on certain pursuits. We must eliminate questions of race and age completely, and leave questions of religion and sex/gender open ended.

Maybe some other time I will rant and rave about in between spaces, that can never truly be encapsulated by the category ‘mixed’ or ‘other’.

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Animal Farm

How to vote (for beginners):

Step one: Listen to all the lies spewed from all the privileged mouths belonging to parties A and B.

Step two: Select which set of lies suits you best.

Step three: Believe these lies with all your heart, soul and intimate areas.

Step four: Vote for your party of choice.

Step five: Quickly realize the folly of your ways as you proceed to be socio-politically molested for a period of five years in all available orifices.

Step six: Complain, cry, vent, protest and generally bad-mouth previously selected party for remainder of term in office.

Step seven: When election season returns, repeat from Step one.

On recent campaign platforms talk of a variety of animals has been bandied about, with copious amounts of outrage following from all corners of our tiny islands. Accusations as to who is right, who is wrong, and discussions over who essentially has the intelligence, capability, honesty and sense of duty to serve our citizens are rampant. Everybody and their mother has an opinion, has a strong feeling, and is suddenly a political analyst, able to track performance, facts and figures like last week’s Play Whe marks, and determine who will definitely come out on top. All of a sudden, everybody sees everybody else in terms of party preference. In this 21st century, where technology is already thinking on its own, we continue to allow our minds to be manipulated by those in the political limelight, and happily believe we are making our very own decisions.

Every five years the same thing occurs. We listen to propaganda, lies and half truths and allow ourselves to be caught once again in the never-ending saga that is the UNC vs PNM political battle. And boy, can these men and women pull our strings! They know exactly how to stroke our egos and light the fires of our passions, exactly how to play on our fears and inner ists: the sexist, the racist, the homophobe, the xenophobe etc. They can tap into our secret selves with well constructed words and play us a tune that we will happily dance to. When will we finally stop this nonsense?

We are the children of rebels, revolutionaries and fighters. Our ancestors toiled under whip and sun, abided, built up the courage and strength they needed and fought for their freedom! We are the products of a legacy of love, hard work and determination. Have we forgotten this? We allow these people to continuously play with us, and we do nothing! Cry and complain and bad talk every man-jack in government, and then go back and vote for these same scoundrels! Where is the walk for all the talk? We so want change, we can’t take all the corruption anymore, every party in power steals from us, gives to their friends, supporters and families, and rides us like mules for five years…we wish there could be something better, but we cannot stand up and fight for it!

In other countries, persons drop everything and take to the streets to make the change they need come to pass. In TT we take to social media, rant and rave and then carry on with our lives as usual. We, as a nation, need to realize that the age of bipartisan governing has long passed. Party politics should be replaced by proportional representation. Let us put persons in power who are only affiliated with our needs, not their party’s demands. Let us be governed by people we can easily hold to account for their actions. Let us, as a people forged from fires of revolution, remember who we are and be the change we want to see in our little land.

And no, I am not voting for any member of a party. And no, my abstinence does not mean I give up my rights as a citizen, it is instead my motion of no confidence!

My Body, My Temple

As a citizen of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; as a married young woman of Indo-ethnic descent; as a Hindu/Shakta, it is both relevant and important for me to speak out on certain issues of national concern.

That being said, a 17-year-old young lady of Indo-ethnic descent recently found fame on the front page of a local newspaper, not because she looked beautiful while playing herself during Carnival celebrations earlier this week, but because of whom she had been dancing with. Further, a local Hindu religious leader has decided to defame this girl and the Afro-Trinbagonian gentleman with whom she shared a ‘little wine’; as always, pulling the ‘race’ card.

Now, if this girl is Hindu, then the only valid reason this religious leader can have for inserting his opinion here is that good Hindu children should not have been on the streets Carnival Monday and Tuesday, but fasting and preparing themselves at home for the worship of Lord Shiva which took place on Tuesday night. (Take that or leave it Hindu people, Shivraatri is one of our greatest nights of worship for the year and if jumping up in a band was more important than that for you, then your priorities obviously need adjusting. And that is my truth.) In which case, he would have been vindicated in arguing that her parents must teach her to truly understand and appreciate worship and prayer, and she has to learn to place spirituality before materiality etc etc etc. However, this does not seem to be the case.

For the umpteenth time, this religious leader is relying on the quietly prevailing Aryan Hindu Patriarchy’s ideologies to make his argument. If she is too young to be danced with, then by all means (as a mentor of mine commented) let us revise the Marriage Act, which allows 14 year old Hindu girls to be married off! For if she is too young to ‘wine’ at 17, why are our girls old enough to be married at 14? Further, she is dancing with a man who is not of Indian descent! And of course the Bhagwat Geeta says you must marry within your caste and creed, but in this day and age have we not advanced enough to understand that a man/woman is more than the color of their skin or the texture of their hair? Did Sai Baba not lecture on how difference is only superficial, when at the heart and in the soul, we are all one and the same?

These points will not be accepted until we, as Indo-Hindu Trinidadian people, begin to understand that we are Caribbean people. We live here, but hold on to the idea that we belong there, the motherland, Mother India! There are those who would have you believe that culture is cemented in our veins, and nothing must change else we lose who we are. We have already changed! We are in a new space, mixing and mingling in new ways. Who can say they are purely Brahmin or Kshatriya anymore? We have crossed the kala pani and become a new people, this does not mean we throw away all of our beliefs and ways of worship, it means we understand that we must adapt and evolve in other ways, even as ways of worship remain the same. Our scripture teaches us how to pray, our common sense must teach us how to live in an ever-evolving society!

It is a downfall of our dharma that we continue to police the female body by Aryan Hindu Patriarchal suppositions. We have set ways in which the woman is defined, her roles and functions, her limits and borders. We as a society have tested many of these and proven them to be outdated, allowing our women to be educated, have careers and take public positions. However, the woman’s body continues to be policed. Her place in the home continues to be the same: nurturer, home-maker, cook, cleaner, washer-woman etc. For practical reasons we have allowed our women some freedom, only to confine them in other ways and call it dharma.

So, Hindu women with careers and goals, like me, struggle on a daily basis to remain dharmic wives, daughters and mothers, without losing ourselves to the sexist rules and conventions that govern us. When will it end? Even as I write this, I am conflicted within myself. We, as Hindu people, need to differentiate between being Hindu and falling under Aryan Indian Patriarchal rule!

Thus, Mr. I-Am-The-Only-Religious-Leader-Who-Matters-And-Must-Speak-About-Everything-All-The-Time, unless you are commenting on how materialism is distracting our children from spirituality, and using this Hindu (if she is Hindu) girl as an example, then speak on. Other than that, please be quiet. You are making the rest of us look like racist hypocrites.

Sita Ram!

Identity

We are always in the process of becoming. We are born, and in being born the opportunity for growth is inevitably grasped, as remaining stagnant is not possible. Our minds are naturally capable of acquiring knowledge, and so they do. Whether consciously or not, we become…in every second of every day from our first breath to our last, we learn, grow and become.

Our bodies are, after all, inscriptive surfaces. Everything we perceive and conceive has been previously formulated by the environment we live in and the people surrounding us. Our ‘preferences’, even our cognitive processes, have been molded by the mental, physical, psychological, spiritual experiences we have been having since birth.

So then, to define identity as a fixed something is folly. Who we think we are in this moment: what we believe in, what we practice, our likes and dislikes, our dreams, hopes, fears… all of this changes at some point or another as we learn and grow. Our constant interaction with the world around us leaves us with lasting impressions that alter our beings to some extent.

Thus, we must not frustrate ourselves with the constant quest to discern “Who am I?” Rather, we must understand the factors that are continually contributing to our education, knowledge and experience, for these create the fundamental building blocks of ‘self’. It is not, then, who we are in this moment that truly matters, but how we have become this person, and how we continue to become the next version of ourselves.

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