Recently I came to a point in every Indian Brahmin man’s life, whether he be IBCD (Indian born confused desi) like me or otherwise. It’s a question that we never really assumed would get here, because it would mean the equivalent of being blasphemers from Brahmin culture; the question of course is whether to keep wearing my sacred thread?
I went through the rites of passage into this first phase of my four-part Hindu life and gained the thin three-stranded thread that drapes down over left shoulder and up back around my right side at some point before I was 10. It wasn’t too long after we had moved to the U.S. I can still remember almost every evening, without fail, in this tiny apartment in Seattle, sitting down with my father, reciting prayers, taking orchestrated sips of holy water, all the while, facing different directions, and prostrating intermittently.
That was well and good for a few years, when it seems the capacity, or disk space in my brain came much cheaper and I could store just about anything I wanted without much effort. The carefree days of grammar and middle school were slowly replaced by the stresses of the average teenager, where time became a factor, and I prioritized other tasks using up that extra half hour of the day. My parents watched, wondered, and questioned me often enough, as to why my irregularity in performing my prayers was now becoming the regularity. I often came up with far-fetched evasions and excuses as teenagers do, and we all let the ritual nature of my faith slip slowly away.
Mind you, I’ve trucked the tools to perform my prayers around the country rather diligently, from apartment to apartment, as most Indian men in my predicament do. I’ve carried both the silver cup and spoon set my grandpa gave me, and the copper one bequeathed me by my great grandpa, not to mention the trove of silk lower body wraps, for the day I feel randomly inspired, I suppose. They sit quietly in the shrine area, growing gray with age and dust, until my cleaning binges when I straighten and shuffle things around them, avoiding the idea that these tools sit there, waiting for me. I take the thread off sometimes in bed, and definitely when I swim, but otherwise, it’s on 24-7. I even go through this guilt absolution process of changing the thread at the temple every year, with other men who are largely setting out resolute like me, to start their prayers again, but don’t.
I wonder if it’s all a sham, I’m running on the religion and myself. I still scramble 45 miles to temple every Saturday morning (when I’m not traveling) and manage to rattle off a half hour of the Rudram Namakam Chamakam with a tattered old Mantrapushpam book in hand. Does that make me Hindu and Brahmin enough, does that get me off the hook from the day-to-day stuff I’m supposed to do?
Most Western educated Indian males (who turn out far more conservative than me in other ways) are surprised to hear my peacenik foreign policy opinions on India, confused that since I wear the thread, I must be a hard-line India-for-Hindus ideologue.
Should I even be proud of the economic advantages the thread/caste/birth rights offered/offers to members of this upper class and consequently the disadvantages to those who were/are not? Is it fair for me to gain access to certain temples in south India when I know less, and am less devoted than someone who is forced to stand further back, but prays sincerely? Could this now be a spurious symbol I wear? Is it like draping myself in a slice of old Dixie; the old southern civil war flag which many feel acts like a reminder of the repression of so many people in the U.S.? Is it like the hard-earned Eagle Scout ring that I still wear today? In the scouts lies an egalitarian national organization, except for more recent pronouncements on their parts stating that some boys (gay ones) are less equal than others.
So all this being said, after a week of mulling the idea of not replacing a thread that snapped recently, I put one back on. The Eagle Scout ring may help explain why. Though I don’t support the closed mindedness of certain extremes of all organizations I’ve ever been affiliated with, I’m not rushing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The ring, the thread, they are reminders of experiences that I’ve enjoyed a great deal and have helped shape me, and ones I want to keep close to me, in whatever way they exist. Perhaps it’s no more than a token now, perhaps it will be less later, I don’t know. I’m just hanging on by a thread.