In both our families we have the tradition of the ‘mundan’ – the baby’s head is shaved either in the first year or in the third year. My family is mostly very non-traditional. We don’t follow many rituals and nor do I see very religious people. Most people do believe in God (something which I am struggling with more and more with everyday) but nobody is interested in big pujas or observing too many fasts or customs or things like that.
R’s family is pretty traditional. They are Brahmins and I can see the pride they feel in that. People there put a huge store in puja-path and going to temples and praying for hours etc. His parents are not that extreme and that is something I am really thankful for.
For Anna, R’s mom had told us an auspicious date (around the time she turned nine months old) and said that we could get it done however we wanted since the mundan is not a big deal for girls. We simply called the barber at home and he shaved her head. It was a relatively painless experience, she did howl but we quickly bathed her once it was done and she was fine.
For Niki, I had wanted to do the same but knew it wouldn’t be so easy. The mundan for a boy is a big deal in their community. Everyone is invited and there’s a big puja and a huge lunch or dinner. People usually stay 2-3 days. The topic of his mundan came up for the first time when we were visiting R’s parents in December. They wanted to do the mundan in their hometown where R’s grandmother and uncles and aunts live. That would have meant a huge function. I agreed because we have never gone there and I know that we do need to make the trip at least once. But the truth is that I dread going there. R’s extended family is extremely traditional and their expectations from a ‘bahu’ are something I can never meet and nor do I have any desire or inclination to do so.
The topic came up again when R’s mom came to stay with us in March. His dad had recently been transferred and there was no way he could take the one week off which would be required to travel to the hometown and have the function there. I was also joining a new job in April and couldn’t take off more than a couple of days. So R’s mom said we should have his mundan after he’s two. For some reason the kid’s head cannot be shaved between one to two years. I was really upset. First of all I don’t see much point in the mundan at all. Everyone says it helps the hair to grow better but then there are people all over the world who don’t have such customs and their hair is just fine. Then I really really didn’t want to wait till he’s two to shave his hair. We wouldn’t be able to cut his hair till then, even if it grew really long we’d have to just let it grow and I think it would be more difficult to hold down a two plus child than a less than a year old.
So I resisted. I told her that I don’t have any problem with doing it in any place but I really want it done before his first birthday. She was a bit upset initially because there was no way we could have a big function before August but later somehow she agreed. We decided to get it done in Tirupathi and have just immediate family in attendance. That’s what I love about R’s mom. She’s really practical and is ready to adjust. In fact later she was really in favour of our decision vs the one of having a big function. She’s also had a lot of problems with ‘her’ inlaws and doing it in the hometown would have meant loads of politics and drama and it would have meant an expense of easily 3-4 lakhs. And for what? To please people who don’t care about us, who only want to show off the BIG Indian family and its’ traditions, who only care about power over the ‘sons’ of the family.
R’s parents did have to face quite some complaints from the family. Demands to call so-and-so and invite them. But they handled everything and stayed firm. They had to face a lot of flak because of something R and I wanted (or rather didn’t want). I really respect them a lot for this. R’s mom kept saying that since we weren’t inviting anybody (including my brother who lives next door) then there was no way we could invite a few ‘special’ people. She also agreed to have Niki’s head shaved rather than just having all the hair cut off. In their community the boy baby’s head is not shaved at the mundan but at the thread-ceremony which happens much later. She said that since we were getting it done in Tirupati which is such a holy place we should let them do it as is the custom there.
We had planned his mundan for a date when R’s mom was due to leave and Mummy was going to come. So all of us went to Tirupati and R’s dad joined us there. The barber came to the guesthouse and shaved Niki’s head. Niki surprisingly didn’t cry at all. He was asleep in the beginning but even when he got up he was fine. He only cried in the very end when the barber applied dettol to his head. We went for ‘darshan’ after that (R’s dad had arranged for a VIP darshan so we were done in an hour). Then there was a small puja in the guesthouse and we were done. R’s parents went back to Hyderabad (R’s dad is posted there currently) and we came back to Bangalore with Mummy.
It all turned out to be much better than I had initially expected. This is something which will keep coming up over the years and I will have to decide how to handle this stuff. I don’t want to have ANY difference in the way we (or anyone else) treat Anna and Niki. They are both babies and they are both equal. This is a topic I think a lot about so more on this later.