In the first of this three-part series, Rajesh Vaghela recounts his experiences as a wayward young Hindu growing up in the UK. His account describes a social and intellectual phenomenon in the life of young Hindus, which is shared by many. As such, his is an important story to tell.
Word had got around that the new sports shop in the High Street had really poor security. It had a whole heap of nice garments laid out on tables at the front of the shop. Together with two friends, we decided to pay the shop a visit. They spoke to the staff, while I took the goods.Walking away from the sports shop with a bunch of clothes that hadn’t been paid for, I was grappling with my conscience. I looked up into sky on the clear autumn evening, and wondered what type of Karma I was indulging in, or whether such a thing even existed.
I was 15 at the time, and veering round to the idea that God didn’t exist. Looking around at the chaos in the world around me, where the seemingly bad people were generally respected and/or feared and got what they wanted through their lack of scruples, it didn’t seem that there was a system of divine justice in operation.
Despite my increasing atheistic tendencies, I still sung Sanskrit stotras on some evenings with my family. The prayers were soothing, and also gave a rare chance for my family to sit together. My dad was usually so busy at work; my mum was always running around frantically helping to organise religious/community functions, while my brother was hardly in the home. So despite not having much belief, the prayer sessions were nice.
Neither had I ceased considering myself a Hindu. I was always comfortable with Hinduism’s broadmindedness. Furthermore, in the environment in which I grew up, the religious tensions that existed made me cling quite strongly to my identity as a Hindu. For example, there was an incident in the town centre where a car with a Pakistan flag drawn into the rear window approached a friend of mine, and asked him what religion he was. When he replied that he was a Hindu, they got out of their car and beat him senseless.
Having had quite a devout religious upbringing, and having been a good student, it was at the age of about 13 that I had started to go haywire. I had started to drink, and later had started dabbling with worse substances. I was also getting into fights with increasing frequency, and indulging in petty crime. All of this inevitably led to police trouble.
Looking back, there were three factors that contributed to my deviation. One was that nobody had the time of day for me, except for friends who themselves had these habits. Secondly, having been ‘started on’ by troublemakers on a number of occasions, I was determined to be tough and fight back. Finally, the way that youth culture was – the music we listened to, the films and TV programs we watched – to be ‘straight and good’ was boring, whereas to ‘live on the edge’ was exciting. You got more respect for being ‘bad’ than ‘good’. No wonder that that ‘bad’ had been transformed into a positive word.
My atheistic patch didn’t last for too long. The sports shop incident had irked my conscience considerably, especially since the shop closed down a few months later. There were a lot of people thieving from that shop, so obviously it wasn’t just because of me. But no doubt, I had my part to play. I may have been young, but I knew how costly it was to start up a business on the High Street, and I felt terrible.
I started questioning everything that I had been doing, and thinking gravely about what type of Karma I may have been accumulating (if Karma did actually exist). While this itself couldn’t cure my doubts about God, it did make me very curious to know the truth, if the truth could actually be known.