Sometimes it’s the smallest of incidents in life that make you think the hardest. Something of this sort happened to me last month. I’m pursuing CFA. I passed the first of the 3 annual exams this July. There’s a lot to be said about the CFA exam: they’re tough, a large number of people from all over the world take them on the first Saturday of June every year, the Institute has a stellar reputation etc. But one thing that hits all the students hard is the amount that we’ve got to shell out to appear for these exams. It’s a lot of money.
But the Institute’s kind enough to charge lower fees on early payments. There are deadlines set throughout the year which must be followed to pay a lower amount. After passing L1, I had checked up on the deadline for the early bird registration: It was September 20. There’s a lot of time and I had to pay using a credit card, so the later I pay, the more I would be able to push the actual credit card payment due date. I mentioned that to my father and joked about finding an auspicious day to register for the Level 2 exams. He laughed and said, “Yes, we definitely should.”
A month and a half had passed. This was somewhere in the back of my mind and then in the third week of September, it came back to me: The deadline has arrived. I asked my dad for the credit card and he had a stern expression on his face. I asked curiously, “What’s wrong? Did you leave your wallet in the office?” And then he uttered something that went on be a surprisingly interesting conversation that he and I had in a really long time. It started as a long monologue which I patiently listened to:
“The Pitru Paksha period is going on. It’s going to last until 20th September. It’s a 16-day period where we pray to the gods and prepare offerings for them so that our ancestors can move from the Pitru Lok, a realm between heaven and earth, to heaven and unite with God. It is suggested that one not take on any new endeavours in this lunar cycle. In July, it did not occur to me that there was going to be an overlap between your CFA Registration deadline and the Pitru Paksha cycle. I’m ready to pay the additional $200 fee after the deadline. I don’t want to risk anything. It’ll trouble me a lot if we do it in this cycle and next year something ominous like you failing the exam happens. I can’t have these thoughts in my mind for the next entire year. So, after a lot of thought, I’ve prepared myself to bear that additional cost. In 2015, when you embarked on your first job as a Chartered Accountant, you joining date was in that cycle. I remember it and look how it turned out for us. You’ve left the job. I didn’t mention it to you as there was no reason to do so. But we can’t be doing the same things again.”
I patiently heard to all that he had to say. I did not interrupt him till the very end, maybe because I didn’t really know how to. It was bizarre. All I could do at the end of the conversation was let out a long nervous laugh. My brain did bring up all the logical arguments which I went on to discuss with him at length further:
“Failing or passing the exam is primarily a function of the efforts I put in. Yes, there might be a factor that goes by the name of “Luck”. But as always, my preparation will be geared towards making it matter the least in the bigger picture. And I decided to leave my last job because I couldn’t see myself having a successful, sustainable career in that line of work. Nothing else.”
My dad didn’t argue with me. But he didn’t budge from his stand either. It was very surprising to me. I’ve always perceived my dad as a rational person who isn’t bogged down by religion, superstition and the likes, and rightly so, there had never been such an incident before.
I did try a bit to change his mind:
“So you’re saying that we can’t register until the 20th. But the Institute follows American Eastern Standard Time. So, what if we register after midnight here in India on the 21st? Will that do? Technically Pitru Paksha shall have passed. But America would still be on the 20th. Everyone’s happy, aren’t they?”
His eyes blinked. There was a slight smile on his face which wanted to approve my “smart” plan. But it quickly gave way to a frown.
“Let me call Takte kaka. He knows a lot more about these things. Let’s run this by him.”
But then Takte kaka’s advice was to do whatever we wanted to do when we were long into the day on the 21st with the sun brightly shining over our heads.
I tried. It didn’t work.
But it made me take a long road down Introspection Lane.
I was hesitant to argue with him wholeheartedly. I could clearly see the place that he came from. He didn’t want anything untoward happening with my career. He came from a place of care and love. The things he was insisting on right now didn’t really stand the test of rationality by any means. But they were strong enough to make me start doubting myself and not argue against them with as much vigour as I normally would.
I have always considered myself a non-religious person. I believe in God, yes definitely. I don’t believe that this entire universe, all of us are just a mere coincidence. Just an accident. All this is a product of somebody’s meticulous designs and we have decided to call that “God”. But religion is beyond me. I have a tough time understanding it. Rituals befuddle me. I don’t understand why God is supposedly going to be angry with me if I don’t follow a set of do’s and don’ts. Why are these procedures so important? Why do I have to pour Milk on it? Why do I have to keep the diya lighted and prevent it from going dim for as long as I can. As a young boy, I’ve performed Satyanarayana Puja a lot of times at home and I can’t bring myself to truly believe from the stories that I read as part of the puja rituals, that he will be angry with us all for breaking his rules. I can’t imagine God being a petty person who gets infuriated because his creations did B, rather than A.
Do I pray? Yes, I do.
Do I go to temples regularly? No, Occasionally yes.
Do I believe in Godmen who preach his word? No. I throw condescending looks at people if they ever praise Babas and Gurus before me. There was a neighbour who used to conduct an Asaram Bapu’s teachings for children class. She was part of his organisation and used to invest a lot of time in preaching what he said and stood for. As a kid in 6th Standard and a resident of the society, it was obligatory for me to attend this “class”. My mother made me take it. I attended the first day and the experience was nothing I would want anyone to have. I never went back. Years later when I sat in the comfort of my living room and watched a TV News debate on the “dhongi”, “rapist” Asaram Bapu, I had a sly smile on my face thinking about how my neighbour must be feeling today. She was pretty pissed off when I refused to go back to class to learn the “good” things from her even after her repeated complaints to my mother.
But I also must admit that I’m the young boy who was 17-years-old and who prayed really hard when his dad was admitted for more than a month in the hospital for a slipped back disc. I’m the person, whose eyes shut for a brief second, whose hand goes on his chest and head bows a little whenever he passes a temple.
As I came back to present times, I found myself understanding why he was suggesting this absurd idea. He must be right. It’s just 200 dollars. I’m going to earn all this back with the job that I take up after this. It’s for my own good. Why not have mental peace if we can buy it? It’s his money and he controls how he spends it at the end of the day.
The rational part inside of me struggled to make itself heard: How can you be a hypocrite? You don’t believe in these aspects of Religion. You mentally judge others when they do something like this and here you are, succumbing to those exact same pressures. You need to talk him out of this.
I decided to buy some time. There were still 3 whole days before the deadline. I talked to my best friend. She’s my soundboard to bounce ideas on in times of crisis and otherwise too. She had similar opposing thoughts on the matter, but she also had something novel to add:
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to accept that you can’t disrespect a person’s beliefs just because you don’t agree with them. You’ve never gone out to the world declaring yourself a Religion hater, an atheist. The very fact that a part of you is okay with your dad’s decision says you’re not immune to the effects that religious beliefs have on people. And you shouldn’t pretend otherwise. You’ve got to embrace who you are wholeheartedly. There’s no “white” right and “black” wrong here. There’s just a sea of grey. Religion often enables a person to buy peace of mind. It’s a really precious thing to have. Imagine living in a world worrying about the probabilities of everything going wrong.”
After this heavy conversation with her, I complied with my Dad’s wishes. I had come to accept I’m a flawed person and at the end of the day, will do all that it takes to further my self-interests, even if that is happening only in my head and not in reality. I decided that I was going to make peace with the fact that I was trying to buy “Luck”.
The registration process wouldn’t see the light of the day. Not till 20th.
On the evening of the 21st, this auspicious day of Ghatastaphana of Navratri, I logged into my account on the Institute website and began the registration procedure. My dad was sitting next to me, looking at the screen intently, with the credit card in his hand, scanning every click that I made and every letter that I typed. And then something made us both laugh out loud. The web page displayed a highlighted message:
Early Registration has been extended to 28th September due to technical issues with the website due to heavy web traffic in the past few days. Students can now proceed further with the registration.