CREDOS: My altar — III

During our teenage years, the 30 minutes spent singing hymns seemed to grow increasingly pointless, and my sister and I eventually rebelled. At first, our father tried to force, even cajole, us back into the routine. But he soon gave up in face of our obstinacy.

Over the years, as my father’s shrine grew, accommodating more idols and pictures of gods and gurus that he’d met, my interest in keeping up with the home altar diminished.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in praying, but I defied his method. While my father’s altar expanded, my approach became more minimalist. I figured that since God is omniscient, when I prayed, I could just face the sun or choose a spot for no other reason than it offered the view of a beautiful hibiscus tree. Or sometimes, in New Delhi, I just visited my favourite temple, which offered spots of tranquillity and the soothing smell of sandalwood incense.

However, over the years, some parts of the ritual became ingrained in my memory. I came to know the aartis and bhajans by heart. I even memorised a chapter or two of the Bhagavad Gita. And every time my father was out of town for a business trip, I — despite my religious rebellion — was charged with the daily ritual of bathing the deities and offering the prayers. That this role was entrusted to me made me feel important; I knew its intricacies, from making the sandalwood paste to fashioning the wick out of cotton in my father’s way. —