When you put a non-believer in a religious environment, interesting things are bound to happen. For instance, the idea of praying for hours without an end will end with a cry for help.

Before I recount my trip to an ashram in south India, I must delve into some personal details. For the purpose of this experience, knowing that I am a transgender girl and an atheist is, perhaps, epochal. To live in the ashram meant subduing these parts of me. It started at the accommodation office. The person-in-charge would talk to me, rather than my mom. The idea of being perceived as a man and the ‘phallus’ attached to being a man is very discomforting to me. I nudged my mother to talk to him and he glanced at me with his under-the-breath judgement.

The whole ashram was based around Sai Baba and, for some, life ceased to exist after that. Life meant praying to their god and participating in his discourse. You can choose to call it either dedication or obsession. Though this isn’t necessarily bad, this isn’t my choice of a lifestyle.

Everything at the ashram was divided on the basis of gender,  be it the canteen queues, the prayer hall seating arrangement, or the shopping centre timings. While this was done to bring a sense of discipline in the environment, I found myself sitting in  my room, dreading to go outside. Interestingly, the library was not restricted on the basis of gender and I tried finding my solace there. Eventually, I realised all the books are based on praying or religious commandments. Soon it became very monotonous to read how you should live and how you should not.

What I thoroughly enjoyed during my stay at the ashram was the cheap yet tasty food. It was prepared with clean hands. The ratios of spices were just perfect and the fact that I was eating my lunch for less thanINR 30, made me a happy woman. The canteen timings were definitely odd for a person from Delhi. Breakfast from 6:30 a.m. – 8 a.m., lunch at 11:30 a.m., and dinner at 6:30 p.m., were unknown concepts for me.

Some of the most cherished memories I had were when I experienced the Chinese New Year celebration where classical Chinese music and dances were performed. The next day, I sat through a set of plays based on family values and a choir performing upbeat spiritual songs. These moments were truly beautiful. Such extravaganzas made me change my perception towards spirituality, which no longer seemed to be a boring concept.

While throwing myself back into the ‘closet’ brought immense pain to my mental state, so much so that passing each day felt like a huge task, I still took away some sweet memories and learned a lot about myself and the kinds of people around me.


Feature Image Credits: Holidify

Raabiya Tuteja

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