Sometime back, I had written about my cousin M and the initial adjustment problems she faced in her marriage last year. Thankfully, when I met her this time, she seemed much happier. I didn’t want to pry too much and she didn’t seem keen to discuss it either, but she let me know in her own way that she had made peace with her situation. Or perhaps her in-laws and husband have changed for the better, which is what I hope has happened. Either way, M was happy and glowing (and pregnant!) and we had a wonderful evening together.
Something of the old uneasiness did slip in to our conversation once though. M was telling me about their frequent trips to her husband’s ancestral village in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. Their family are the traditional custodians of the village temple it seems and their presence is required for all the big festivals where the family does the pooja and serves food to the entire village. How wonderful, was my first thought! Except that M then mentioned that only their family and the other Brahmins in the village are served food in the main temple while everyone else eats outside. And she seemed distinctly uneasy when she said that.
The background to this story is that M’s family is from a so-called lower caste and there was considerable ‘reluctance’ to their marriage from her husband’s Brahmin family initially. (Notice how there’s no real opposition these days? It’s a more polite but just as firm reluctance instead!) I suppose M is considered a Brahmin after her wedding which is how she gets to serve food and eat in the temple now. But what if her parents were to attend the pooja someday? Would they eat outside with people from their own caste? Or would some of their daughter’s Brahminness rub off on them for a day and they get to eat inside as a special privilege?
I’m sure these thoughts were running through M’s mind as we spoke. Her normally cheerful face seemed troubled for a moment. And then she hurriedly changed the topic and we moved on to speak of happier things. But the moment stayed with me after I went home. Why do people still follow these caste rules? What is the point in this day and age where caste plays no role in how educated or cultured a person really is? Don’t they see the futility and injustice in these distinctions? I can understand the temple may not accommodate the whole village. Why not serve food on a first-come-first-serve basis inside the temple then? The latecomers can very well eat outside!
I couldn’t help but contrast M’s in-laws’ attitude with my nana-nani’s then. M’s mother, an impoverished orphan struggling to support herself and her aged grandmother – her only living relative, was my mother’s best friend in college. When my nana-nani got to know her, they ‘adopted’ her (emotionally, not legally) and she’s been a part of our family ever since. I call M’s mother mavshi, my mamas buy the same presents for her as they do for my mom and my ‘real’ mausis on raksha bandhan and I get really confused and irritated each time someone questions if M is actually my cousin! My mom’s family is Brahmin too but tell me, how does that even enter the picture?