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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Second chances

If life came with a do-over option, would you take it?

There are many things I love about the fact that I was born a Hindu. And no, I’m not going all Sadhvi Rithambara on you this Sunday morning. No fiery sermons, I promise, just a few stray thoughts and observations.

Okay, so why am I glad to be a Hindu?

First of all, there’s the fact that I can pretty much do what I like and still call myself one. I can observe every fast and ritual or not. I can be a strict vegetarian or stuff myself full of meat. I can go to a mandir to do my puja or worship quietly at home. I can do any or all or none of these things and still be seen as a Hindu.

So basically, I can pretty much make up my own rules as I go along and nobody threatens me with eternal damnation or with the prospect of burning for eternity in the fires of hell, or whatever other imaginative punishments are prescribed by certain other faiths.

Yes, one of the best things about Hinduism is that there is no regimented clergy prescribing how we should live our lives, laying down the law on everyday matters which should really be a matter for individual conscience. And when the occasional madman does turn up and try and dictate how we should conduct ourselves, nobody pays a blind bit of attention to him anyway.

It is this essential tolerance that I love. There’s none of that, “It’s either my way or the highway (to perdition).” Hinduism accepts that there are many paths to God and each of them is as valid as the other. Not to mention that as a woman I thank my many gods and goddesses every day that there is no entrenched authoritarian male patriarchy here, constantly trying to put me in my place.

And then there are the festivals. There is the pagan madness of Holi, full of colour and light-hearted fun. There is the brilliant splendor of Diwali, the festival of lights. And every region of India has its own special festivities: Baisakhi, Poila Boisakh, Onam, Pongal, Gudi Padwa, and many, many more.

As if that wasn’t enough, as a Hindu you can celebrate the festivals of other faiths without anyone raising as much as an eyebrow. Want a Christmas tree? No problem, just get one. Want to gorge on biryani and seviyan on Id? Go right ahead and indulge yourself. Nobody is going to gainsay you or declare you an apostate.

But while I celebrate all of these aspects of Hinduism every day, what I am truly grateful for is that mine is the one religion that comes with a do-over option. Because when it comes right down to it, isn’t it what the concept of re-incarnation all about?

This is not our only life. There will be others. And if you’ve gotten it badly wrong this time round, there’s always hope that you could get it right in your next incarnation.

Life is nothing but an endless cycle. You are living a life that is the consequence of the karma you earned in your last life. You can improve your next life by earning some good karma in this one. And if you get it wrong despite your best efforts, well it’s not the end of the road. You will get a do-over option when you are next reborn.

Didn’t do enough charity work because you were too busy bringing up kids and building a career? Never managed to take time off and explore the rest of the world? Didn’t look after your parents the way you should have? Couldn’t get along with your children? Never tried bungee jumping or white-water rafting?

Never mind. There’s always another life in which you can do all of this stuff – and more. The lives are endless, the possibilities infinite.

But what I was thinking was: wouldn’t it be great if this life came with a do-over option as well, a sort of reset button that you could employ, setting the clock back to a time when you think you messed up so that you could make amends?

There is the small stuff of course. I have lost count of the number of times I have replayed an argument in my head, thinking of brilliant comebacks I could have made at that time, completely devastating the opposition with my cutting wit and rapier-sharp repartee. Like most people, unfortunately, I seem to be much more witty, sharp and engaging in retrospect.

And then, there are the biggies. There is the job you refused because you were afraid to make a move, the people you treated badly because you didn’t know any better, the love affair that never worked out because you were too arrogant to make compromises, the husband you settled for because you were scared of being alone. Life is full of chances you never took, missed opportunities, lost causes.

I know that it is fashionable to say, when asked, that we have no regrets in life. And that if we had to do it all over again, we would do exactly the same thing. That’s certainly what every celebrity invariably says when they are asked this question.

But seriously, how many of us actually mean this stuff when we trot out these lines? And how many of us are lying through gritted teeth?

Think about it. Which category would you put yourself in?

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