My 8-year-old daughter and I often get into animated discussions about various things that catch her attention – whether it’s about something she heard at school, read about or just thought about.
For instance, a while ago, she asked me if she could paint people in her art projects with colours she liked and not the colours used by others in her class. I said, of course.
The result was a sketch of me with green hair.
But the lockdown has changed the nature of her questions. It’s not so much about colours and art anymore. Despite the online classes, the lockdown has given her more time to ruminate over things. Over the past few weeks, she has asked me about life, death, god, online classes vs. classroom teaching, meat dishes vs. vegetarian dishes, exercising at home vs. taking a walk outside, etc. While some of her questions are easy to answer, others make me wonder. I want to share a few such instances.
To make her willingly obey the restrictions, I sometimes ask her to watch television news with me. I know some news reports can get too much for a little girl, but it’s easier convincing her to stay at home when she herself hears how many people are sick and how important it is to obey all lockdown-related rules.
One evening, after watching the news, she asked me a question. “Mamma, what is religion?” I thought for some time and said, “Sweetie it’s the way we pray to god.” I thought this would be a good answer as she regularly prays to god, thanking him for things she has and asking him for other little things she needs.
I know over the last few weeks she has been praying regularly, and asking god to give her chicken curry.
The thing is, I have been cooking only vegetarian dishes during the lockdown as it saves us the trip outside the apartment complex. The vegetable shop is inside the compound, making it more convenient and safer for all of us. To be fair, I have been cooking vegetables using chicken masala – so she at least gets the flavour, if not the real thing.
Anyway, I was happy with my answer to her question on religion and thought that would be the end to our little Q&A. But I could not have been more wrong. My short answer opened the floodgates to a dozen other questions that had been bothering her. From how many religions we have in the world to why people from different religions don’t get along at times, it went on and on.
I want to share some of the questions with you that touched me the most during our little chat. “If it’s just about praying to god, why do people fight about it? We can pray whichever way we want and god will listen to us. Right, Mamma?” I agreed.
Then she asked me if it was possible to choose a religion instead of being born into one. “Mamma, if you were not born a Hindu, which religion would you choose?” she asked.
Then there was another one on having multi-religious identities. “Mamma, can one person belong to many religions at the same time? Can I be Hindu when I want and Christian when I want?”
I know she loves the Christmas tree, cupcakes and the presents ‘Santa’ gives her for being a good girl through the year. She also loves the special biryani and kebabs we have during Eid as much as she enjoys feasting on all kinds of mithai during Diwali.
However, to make her more practical about life, I posed a question in response to her question on multi-religious identities. I asked her if all of us followed multiple religions, which religion would we mention in some of the official forms we fill up? I thought that would make her realise the importance of following one religion, at least officially. But quick came her answer, “Why should we mention our religion on any form, Mamma?”
“It’s getting late, dear,” I said. “It’s time to have our dinner. We will chat more tomorrow.”
As I fell asleep that night, I thought about what else she would ask me in the days to come and if I would be able to answer them in a way that would protect her innocence while still keeping her somewhat informed about the ways of the world.
And, as far as chicken curry goes, I plan to make it at home next week so she stops referring to the dish to demonstrate the usage of past tense during her English language homework sessions.
Smeeta Mishra is a communication and media studies consultant who strives to understand people’s words, silences, and everything in between. She tweets @smeetamishra
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty