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The title of this article is the innocent question my daughter asked day before yesterday. She was going for a day long school excursion and all the kids were looking forward to a stop at McDonald's. Now, my daughter relishes chicken - in fact loves eating chicken. Eggs are her favourite breakfast. On Tuesday when her dad observes a fast and on Thursday when I do, the breakfast menu changes to a cereal with Banana or a sandwich. However, the twice a year Navratri period is when there are no eggs and even our pet dog goes Veg. The kids have been putting up with this very sportingly.
However, this question opened a plethora of questions and a parenting dilemma. I had grown up in a strict vegetarian family. I got married into a family that was vegetarian as far as the kitchen at home is concerned but eggs are standard breakfast. My husband would eat non veg once in a while but not being a foodie he never really craved for it. when our daughter was born, I intentionally gave her egg and chicken as she grew up as I had gone through the experience of going hungry when travelling abroad. But as I explained earlier, the norm was to go veg on special days mostly for religious reasons.
When she asked if she could eat a chicken burger during Navratri when I was observing the fasts - the person in me said NO but the mother in me did not have the heart to stop her. Should my religious belief guide her basic choice of what to eat? When the kids had asked once why we go to the temple and not the church, I had promptly told them "You are almost born into a religion because you tend to follow the religion that your family follows but you can decide to follow any other faith if you feel that makes you feel stronger. God makes you stronger irrespective of where you pray." It had not taken me a second to give this reply on religion. As I slowly muttered, "You decide", I thought why was my religious practice becoming a binding on my child's food? "Tell na mama, please" she pestered.
My husband walked in at that time and faced the same question. I am sure he went through the same dilemma but took a shorter time to reply "You eat what you feel like. Bhagwanji does not tell us what to eat what not to." As if I got a cue, I continued the conversation looking up from the laptop. "We observe fast or give up certain things during Navratri to show our dedication to God and it is each person's choice. God does not ask us to do so and does not think of us as good or bad through these." "But what if I eat chicken in Navratri and God does not give me good marks?" she was worried. "Well, marks depend on how well you study not on when you eat chicken" both of us immediately said in unison. SHe then called up her dadi with the same question. Dadi gave the final stamp "Beta jo bhi khao, khane se pehle Brhamarpanam kar dena. Both you and food will be blessed by God."
As she set out with her friends the next morning we agreed that it is better to give our kids freedom of deciding what religious practices they follow specially the ones like these. As they grow there is no way to know what they eat when away from home. It is better they come home and announce truthfully what they ate instead of forcing them to follow some rules which they break behind your back.
As the day passed, she would have stopped somewhere munching on her chicken burger and I would have been busy reading my Durga Chalisa with God smiling somewhere and blessing us both :)