02 August, 2021

A Non-Violent, Vegetarian Atheism

A Punjabi Sethi speaks of her introduction to Jainism through marriage

A Non-Violent, Vegetarian Atheism

The name on my passport is Madhu Sethi Jain. I chose not to let go of my maiden name (quite an anachronism that word, maiden) when I got married. Inevitably—well, almost always—the immigration official looks perplexed when he sees my name each time I fly in or out of Delhi. Many of the officials can’t resist asking how a Sethi married a Jain.

I saw the question marks materialise in the eyes of many family members when they learned that I was going to marry a non-Punjabi, and a Jain at that. They were too polite to verbalise their surprise. But a cousin known for his sense of humour presented me with a cotton mask, the kind Jain monks of some sects cover their mouths with to avoid inadvertently swallowing insects. The envelope in which it was placed had a lazily scrawled line: “For pure, clean and filtered love.”

All that my Punjabi family, most of whom are devoted meat-eaters, knew about the Jains was that they were vegetarians, abstemious, and their monks wandered around naked and shoeless, with white cotton masks on their faces. For...

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