Rahul Kumar* grew up as the son of an Indo-Caribbean Hindu pandit (priest) in the United States. He currently works in business. Learn about his experiences growing up as the son of a Hindu pandit in the Q&A below.
What was it like to grow up as the son of a Hindu pandit?
I’m a child of of both worlds. I’m the first [of my family] born in the United States of our family line. My siblings and I went to Catholic school and while we learned about Jesus five days a week, we learned about Krishna and Brahma at home and Shiva and Brahma and all the stories. You can say that we had a whole inundation of both religions, but it’s made me who I am today….I’m not entirely religious. I’ve very much faithful, if you will. I’m not a church person.
Did you feel pressured to become a pandit yourself?
No, there’s been no pressure. There’s been no ‘This is what you’re going to do.’ It’s a feel the spirit kind-of-thing. I think if we lived in simpler times, perhaps my father may have done it, but it’s one of those things where it’s not necessarily sustainable. It’s not sustainable income….You’re doing it for the love of people and the love of God and the love of music, so no pressure on my behalf at all.
Would you say it’s typical for Hindu priests to have a second job?
A lot of the Hindu priests that usually go to a temple, they are paid for by the temple. They are destitute. They won’t make much money, but they will have enough to put their kid through school or get a house paid for, but that’s a different kind of thing than the priesthood I have learned from. The West Indian Caribbean Hindus, there are some big priests that end up having a lot of money or a sole income from doing that, but not many. So we have other jobs. That’s why on religious holidays for us, the services are always at nighttime….Caribbean Hindu pandits, unless they’re living off a pension or social security, I think that they have another job because this is not a self-sustaining thing. This is not your mega church Joel Osteen kind-of-thing .
My dad worked at the railroad then eventually got moved and opened a Firestone store….Now that he’s retired, he can go back to being a priest [full time], which is one of those things he finds joy in.
Did you ever feel stereotyped as the son of a Hindu pandit?
Not really. I understand what stereotypes there could be, but honest to goodness, not really. I mean, for the most part, the kids today who are raised in America that are sons or daughters of Hindu priests, or pandits, they’re as American as you and me. The father is the sole point of attention, but he may put a little pressure on their kid to pick up an instrument or sing a song during the service. For example, when I was growing up, I was a pretty talented singer and a harmonium player, so I was expected to sing. And kids may be jealous or whatever, but really it wasn’t anything. There wasn’t any teasing for who you were or where you came from. I actually dated six or seven protestant PK’s. I was on an odd path in my 20s. I’m a kid of both worlds. I don’t think they were rebelling. They strove to expand their worldview, and I was always the starter kit.
* Name has been changed