Charlotte Blaire to Malini Shanmuga and back again....
My dad introduced the Hindu religion to us bit by bit at first. Being little kids, he would teach us songs in Hindi. I remember a couple I LOVED: Parvati Putra, Ganapati Ohm, and Ganesha Saranam. At the time I had no idea what the songs meant but they were fun to sing and so I sang them a lot! We were living in Philipsburg, NJ during this time period. Shortly after the divorce and our short intro into our new found religion, my dad informs my sister and I that he had been advised by the Guru (Master Subramunya) that he would like us closer to him and the monks in California. I was like 6 so I had no clue what a Guru was and who this man was telling us I had to leave all my friends but when your little you go with the program. My dad sold his Fiat and bought a green truck and a huge towing trailer and we packed up our stuff and drove across country...picking up hitch hikers and playing "Punch Buggy" the whole way. It was a BLAST!!! We had a top on the back of the truck and when my dad needed a rest from the drive we all camped out in the back.
During our cross country adventure my dad proceeds to inform my sister and I that we were going to have our names legally changed to Hindu names. WHAT?!!! I am 6. My name is Charlotte Blaire Dalton. My sisters name is Ashley Elizabeth Dalton. How can this be? What do you mean change our names? Well, dad said if we were going to be true Hindu's that when needed to walk the walk. The Guru told my sister to look through a list of Hindu names that begin with a "D" and I had to pick a name that started with "M". My sis picked Dana (Pronounced Donna in Hindi) and I picked Malini. I picked that name because it sounded so much like Melanie. My dad went from Ben Dalton to Prashad Shanmuga. So there you have it. The Griswold family just went from nerdy Americans to American Hindus. We had to work HARD to train ourselves to call each other Dana and Malini. We practiced and practiced and practiced.
Our travels across country ended in Brownsvalley, CA. It is a little town in the foothills of Cali, right outside of Sacramento and a 3 hour drive to San Francisco which is where we would drive every 2 weeks to our Hindu Temple. The drive to San Francisco were my favorite parts of living in California. I fell in love with the steep hilly streets and diverse culture. As time passed, my sister and I began to understand the rituals of the temple. We learned the names of the main Gods (Shiva, Ganesha and Muruga). Every Sunday after temple we would all sit together and read Hindu comics. I learned so much from those comics. They taught me that women are powerful beings. You see, in the Hindu religion there are Gods and Goddesses. and the Goddesses were bad-ass women! I also learned a lot about morals and the importance of living a good life and being a good person...KARMA is huge in the Hindu religion. What comes around goes around is something I will never be able to unlearn or forget.
Our trips to the temple is also where I met the Guru for the first time. Master Subramunya. Sure I was 6 and I really didn't "get" that I needed to have great respect for this guy. He kind of gave me the creeps. There was something about him that just wasn't right. All this time I heard he was super spiritual, pure and as close to the Gods as you can get. My dad would tithe a lot to the church. My sister and I even tithed 10% of our allowance each week to the church. Don't get me wrong, to tithe is important and it taught us respect for money and the temple but it was still a drag when your little. We did meet others in the church that were American like us who were devotees or Master Subramunya as well. It was very cultish.
For the next 3 years we lived in Brownsvalley, Ca. I can't say I loved it, because I hated it. We lived in a little green trailer on 12 acres of land. There were creepy bugs everywhere, we had a goat named Sadi that we had to milk every morning, kids made fun of our last name on the bus (a bus we had to get up at 5:30am to wait for) and we lived so far from civilization (corner store). It was all just not my speed. I need people, stores and friends in close proxcimity to my house. THEN....one night my dad tells us that the Guru wants us to move again. This time to NYC! "You mean we can get outta here?" I thought maybe this Guru wasn't so bad. "Let's GO!" So off we went on another cross country trip back to the east coast with the green truck and the massive trailer, picking up hitch hikers and playing "Punch Buggy"!
We were introduced to the big city with kids catching rides on the back of our truck through the city and my dad freaking out. Our new house was actually in use by the Hindu monks. We were going to live right across from the temple on Bowne Street in Flushing. Soon after we arrived my dad informed us that we would quietly be changing our names back to Blaire and Ashley. You see, the Guru that I had a weird feeling about the whole time, ended up being a real bad dude. He was using the money all us American Hindus were tithing and using it for first class plane tickets, lots of alcohol and was having relations with the monks in the monastery. (Don't worry, I found out the details when I was older and not little. My dad just told us we were going back to the way things were which was fine with us). It was almost like we were never Malini and Dana, that is how easy it was to go back to Blaire and Ashley.
For a long time I prayed but I never indulged in church. I believed in God but I wasn't sure how to practice the Christian religion. I did though know the kind of church I felt most comfortable in and that was a very formal ritualistic setting. After doing much research I took classes and was baptised Catholic. I LOVE being Catholic and my church so much. I feel so comfortable and welcome. That is not to say that being involved in the Hindu religion was a negative part of my life; on the contrary. The Hindu religion is beautiful and its beliefs taught me things that I bring with me into my current Catholic belief system. Being Hindu taught me to never judge and to accept people no matter where they come from. Who knows where I would be and what I would have become as Malini Shanmuga? Perhaps, betrothed to be married to someone the Guru chose for me and home schooling our kids. Instead, Dharma for Charlotte Blaire Kessler is living a full rich life Catholic with my husband and daughter. THAT is Pristine Beauty to me.
People are often surprised when I tell them I used to be Hindu and had my name legally changed. Perhaps, I come off very normal or a simpleton. To that I say NEVER judge a book by its cover. There might be something kinda cool lurking under the nerdy exterior. Meditate on that. OHM!