The Pakistani cab-drivers and Hanuman

15 Oct

Taxi-cabs-New-York-0986

I had a seriously annoying Pakistani cab-driver a few days before I left New York in September.

He saw my “Jai Bajrang Bali” tattoo to Hanuman (for those who don’t know: Hanuman) and he said:

“What that say on your arm?”

I said: “It says ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’”, which is a praise-phrase for Hanuman that I think roughly means: ‘Hail, strong one’ (He’s the patron deity of wrestlers and strength athletes generally and I got it in prep for going back to judo.)

“You know about Hanuman?  You read about him?”

“Yeah…” seeing where this was going.

“You Hindu?”

“No”

“So why you Hindu on your arm?”

“Because Hanuman is important to me.”

“So why don’t you become Hindu?”

“Well,” I said kind of testily, “you can’t become Hindu.  You can observe Hindu practices or show some reverence for Hindu deities, but you’re born Hindu, with a very specific place in the cosmic order, with a varna and a caste and a gotra and its particular deity/deities that you’re devoted to and very particular and varied rites or ritual obligations that you’re subject too.  You can’t really convert to Hinduism…in my opinion, at least, despite lots of white people who think they can.”

Silence.

A little bit out of his depth at this point.

“You Jewish?”

(Of course, right?)

“No, I’m Christian technically, Greek Orthodox.”

“If you Christian, how come you have Hindu on your arm?”

“Well,” I said, “that’s probably a little hard for a Muslim to understand.”

And that ended the conversation.

But I shit y’all not, two days later I had the same conversation with another one.  This one ended more abruptly.  When we got to the part about how one can’t “become” Hindu, he started telling me that Islam is very simple and that to become a Muslim is very simple.  “You want to become Muslim, it’s very simple.”

But instead of saying…

“Yes, I imagine the appeal of all totalizing and authoritarian ideologies has always been their ‘simplicity.’  ‘Come with us — it’s simple…’”

…I just said: “Oh, well then maybe I’ll think about it.”

I don’t think he knew what to make of that one.

*************************************************************************

See also: “For Hanuman-ji and the Pakistani cab-drivers: Aditya Kapoor’s beautiful photo essay of a wrestling akhara in Benares

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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