Raajeev's Corner - 2020

Oh My God!

By Rajeev Aggerwhil

I grew up in a crowded environment in India. When I am stuck in Los Angeles traffic, I actually enjoy it. It's like having a party on the road. I also grew up in a merchant community. Among the four different classes of Hindus, we were ranked third. We were below the priests and the warriors and just above the untouchables. That meant I had a happy uneventful childhood. Even the priests didn't bother touching us!

My dad belonged to a liberal sect of Hinduism. He discouraged us from going to Hindu temples saying God is everywhere. That made sense and with 33 million Gods, it was like Starbucks. There was always one at every corner. My mom was a Jain. She instilled in us the Jain belief in non-violence and how all lives are considered sacred. She would tell us that some Jain priests would pay people to lie down on old beds so the bed bugs wouldn't die of starvation.

We have the same thing here in America. We call it fundraising for politicians. We keep electing the same politicians so that the blood-sucking life-forms don't die of starvation. With the Jain-Hindu belief, I have been a vegetarian all my life. When my Christian friends tell me they gave up meat for Lent, I tell them my life is Lent.

There are advantages of being a Hindu. When I travel on vacation during the holidays, I get a discount. I just agree to fly on Christmas Eve or Christmas. When we visited London a few years ago, I was shocked to find out that the tickets to Westminster Abbey were $20 per person. We would have paid $100 for a family of five. So, we decided to become Christian for a day. We attended the Christmas Eve mass, which was free. I even offered a prayer during the service. “Dear Jesus, please protect my family from excessive overcharges."

I have been doing meditation for over twenty years and I have been able to experience true happiness. It also adds clarity in mundane aspects of life.

During a trip at the London airport, the pushy sales lady pointed to a giant picture of Jennifer Lawrence. She was trying to sell a very expensive perfume called Joy by Christian Dior to my wife. We were running late for our connecting flight so I said, “Do you guarantee that this perfume will bring unconditional joy and happiness in our lives?" She couldn't guarantee that, nor could she guarantee a glamorous life like Jennifer Lawrence.

When I flew Air France over 20 years back, all the air hostesses had attitudes. They were like strict teachers trying to discipline rowdy school children. Even requesting the pre-ordered vegetarian meal was a chore and they acted like they were doing me a huge favor.

Things have changed quite a bit in the last few years. I was surprised when the French steward actually folded his hands, smiled and said, “Namaste." However, I could tell that it wasn't a genuine smile acknowledging the greeting's traditional meaning of the divinity in me recognizes the divinity in you. It was the kind of smile that says, “I bow to you because you guys have more money now."

One of the things that all religions teach is selfless giving and service to the community. In that spirit, I decided to volunteer for a suicide hotline. But I wasn't very good at it. The first guy who called was so upset. He screamed on the phone, “This is crazy! They managed to outsource this as well." I stayed calm like my supervisor had trained me and asked politely, “So you don't want me to talk you out of it?" He got flustered and hung up.

I was surprised when they told me he called again to enroll in the mindfulness program! The second caller was a bit more persistent. He talked to me for 20 minutes. Then he said, “I think I am going to jump." I had to think fast to keep him on the line. “I can pray with you before you go." He said okay. Then I started praying to all the Hindu Gods reciting their names. He got so tired listening he said he was too tired to jump.

When our children were young, we tried to instill our cultural and religious values in them. They would attend Hindu Sunday School. Every session started with a pledge of allegiance. Sort of. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under millions of Gods, including but not limited to Krishna, Rama, Laxmi, Parvati, Shiva, Ganesh … indivisible, with liberty and free tech support for all."

When my youngest son was in high school, he joined a Christian Athletes club. My wife asked him, “Beta, you are not a Christian and not an athlete." He said, “They have free Pizza, Mom." He continued, “When they asked me if I believed in Lord Jesus Christ, I told them I believe in Lord Papa Johns." I smiled at his witty remark and my wife reacted with, “Oh my Gods!"


Los Angeles-based comedian Raajeev Aggerwhil has starred in Nickelodeon's TV show 100 Things to Do Before High School and also acted in the film based on the television series. See his videos on YouTube.