“Would a vegetarian landlord rent me a house if he/she came to know that I consume meat?” I asked my friend, a fellow journalist, as she ferried me around Kathmandu. She gave me a ‘what-sort-of-stupid-question-is-that’ look before informing me that my dietary habits would not bother a prospective landlord as long as the rent was paid on time.
If one is visiting Nepal for the first time, it is easy to be awed by the country’s beauty and the warmth of its people. But it was the deeply religious nature of the average Nepali that gave me pause. Nepal may be a Hindu majority country, but no one seemed interested in associating your clothes, your dietary habits or your choice of boyfriend with your religion.
When I visited the Kathmandu Darbar square it was not the beautiful architecture (much of it was destroyed in the earthquake) of the temples or the palaces that left me in awe. I watched stupefied as young couples climbed atop the stairs of a Shiva-Parvati temple at the Darbar and perched themselves on many of the shady corners of the massive structure taking selfies and being carefree, even as a priest went about the rituals within the sanctum sanctorum. This scene would repeat itself in many of the other popular Darbar squares in Kathmandu.
I immediately realised that had this been a popular temple in India, no couple would have possibly thought of being so free. If they had somehow managed to secure a spot with a shade of romance, they would have been shouted at by a bunch of devotees and the priests, reminding them a temple was no place for a young unmarried and not-yet-engaged couple to hang out, not to mention how it was against the ‘Indian’ culture.
At the Pashupatinath temple, a trip that was unplanned, I hesitated to enter the premises as I was in a skirt that was by no stretch of imagination a long one. In my mind, it was a modest one but then, my idea of modesty does not often relate with general perception. My friend assured me it was alright. Throughout the trip to the temple, I watched warily waiting for someone to come and tell me how shameless I was to wear a ‘not-so-long’ skirt in a temple. But neither the priest nor the devotees bothered. I have never in my life felt so elated at being so thoroughly ignored. I also know that had this been India, I would not have escaped without a moral lecturing in the least. On the roads no cows loitered and cow vigilantes are yet to find employment in Nepal, I was told.
This is not to say that the former Hindu Kingdom is an ideal place. Some temples still restrict the entry of non-Hindus (a recent development as I was told) and the ubiquitous caste question followed me whenever I entered into a talk with a stranger who happened to be a Hindu. I also realised that, as a tourist, I may have barely scratched the surface of this multilayered country and my observations could have been hasty.
But despite this, Nepal, a deeply religious country, did not give me the shove-it-down-your-throat religious sentiment that somehow seems to prevail in ours these days. Overt symbols of religion like sporting a tilak is far common in Kathmandu than it would be, say in Delhi, or Ahmedabad. Yet, Nepal seemed to be chilled out about its belief and practices. It seemed to gleefully accept the new with the old, the veg with the non-veg and the faith with cynicism.
Nepal may not be a model for us in terms of infrastructure and economy but the country can surely teach us a thing or two about how to be a ‘cool’ Hindu.
This article is written by Smitha Rajan and was originally published at DNA India.