Tejal Toprani, MSW
Misra is a psychotherapist in part-time private practice and a most-time stay at home mom. She lives in California with her spouse and two young sons.
In the 4th grade I had two best friends with whom I played at the back of the playground during recess.
One Monday, my Korean Christian “best friend” asked me what I did on Sunday. I don’t remember what my answer was but it did not involve church.
“Why?” She asked.
“Because I’m not Christian.”
Eleven year old me was raised Hindu and I still am.
We can break here for a quick religious education: For those of you who don’t know, Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion and the third largest religion behind Christianity and Islam. Hindus believe that God exists and that all human beings are divine. Hindus also believe in the importance of religious harmony among all things. Our religious place of worship is called a Temple and the word for “temple” is different depending on what your native Indian language is.
Okay, back to the story: It’s Monday and I am at recess and my “best friend’s” response to my recollection of my Sunday was “You didn’t go to Church?” and I say “No I’m not Christian, I’m Hindu.” To which my “friend” replied, “If you’re not a Christian, you’re going to go to hell!”
Eleven-year-old me was shocked.
How could someone so affirmatively declare what was going to happen to ME in the after life? Who died and made her Queen?
But all my eleven year-old self could blurt out was “Nooo I’m not!!!” Being told I was going to go to hell felt isolating and hurtful. I didn’t know what to do with this information. Our other best friend stood by listening.
So when I went home that day I asked my Dad if we were going to hell when we die.
It bears mentioning that my Dad is the opposite of Mr. Rogers when it comes to explaining things to children.
But hindsight is 20/20.
My sweet, well intentioned Dad said that as Hindus, we don’t believe in hell.
What a relief!
Now I can take this information back to Janet (oops!) and be exempt from any “Hell” she thought I was going to for not worshiping the same god as she did.
But my Dad didn’t stop there. He proceeded to tell me that Hindus believe that heaven and hell are all here on earth. Hindus serve out their karma for good and bad deeds here in cycles of reincarnation. He said, “When each life ends our souls come back in other living things like a spider, a cockroach or …. a warthog.”
Eleven-year-old Tejal was freaking the F out!
My Dad sensed my fear and tried to walk backwards away from this landmine by saying “Maybe you will come back as a bird.”
To my parents credit there wasn’t a blueprint on how to handle these questions.. The great immigration cycle of Indians from India started in 1965, less than a 100 years ago. Up until recently there weren’t any childrens’ books or regular temple activities to teach young Indian American children like me about their culture and religion.
I wish I had had the chutzpah to explain my background when my Christian “best friend” told me I was going to “Hell.” I didn’t have a rebuttal or an experience of my own to share with her.
As a result, the experience really shaped me. It empowered me to learn more about my culture and religion. It then informed me to figure out how I was to educate my children on Hinduism. Even though I’m still afraid of coming back as a warthog in my next life, I’m writing the blueprint that works for me and our family.