The first person to teach me acceptance was my mother.
At the time, a Hindu uncle had been living with my family, and I’d seen the corner in his room dedicated to his gods. I was a curious seven-year-old, and being the devout little Sunday school-goer and Bible story reader that I was, I set about asking him:
“Uncle, do you believe in God?”
“Yes, of course I do.”
“No, but do you believe in God? With a capital ‘G’?”
Because I had learned from my books that idol worshippers’ gods got a little ‘g’, but the Christian God, the real God, got a capital letter.
“What difference does it make? I still believe in God,” he responded, laughing.
I turned to my mother who was also laughing at my question, but seemed to understand my confusion.
“There is one God-”
“-with a capital ‘G’.”
“…Yes, with a capital ‘G’. There is one God, one destination. But different people take different paths to reach God.”
“The same God, our God?”
“Our God, their God, it’s all the same. We just worship God in different ways. Some are Christians, some are Hindus, some are Muslims, but all are children of God and all will reach the same place no matter what path they take.”
This was a mindset I was fortunate to be able to observe more over time, as the Malayalee community I grew up in was an even blend of Christians and Hindus. The Christians went to their many churches, and the Hindus went to their temples and prayers, and it was accepted that this was the norm. Celebrating the Hindu festival of Onam every year was a given, whether you were Hindu or Christian – a Christian friend of mine was usually the one roped in to dress up as Mahabali, the Asura king. During the end-of-year Christmas carolling, it was (and still is) the case that the giant group of revellers going from house to house singing carols and beating drums and tambourines with a dancing Santa in their midst was made up of more Hindus than Christians.
There is, however, still an element of division that cannot be ignored when it comes to what is arguably the touchiest aspect of our culture: marriage. Inter-religion marriages are still heavily frowned upon by most Malayalee families, and one must question the relevance of this disapproval in the face of a generation that is becoming more and more distanced from the rigidity of previous traditions, including those belonging to religion. What difference does it make if they take different paths to get to God, they’re still getting to God, right? (Apparently there is a difference, if you ask someone who’s trying to get their kid married.)
Despite this, growing up as a Malayalee in South Africa, and with the particular culture of religious acceptance (in-all-things-but-marriage) amongst the community members has helped me grow as a person, and encouraged me to think beyond my own experiences.
The conversation I had with my mother back then has stuck with me, and even though my mother and I have our arguments (don’t get us started on clothing), her capacity for love and acceptance always amazes and humbles me. I’ve since then thought of every person’s God – whether that be a religious God, or something else they are devoted to – as God with a capital ‘G’. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.