India Trip – 2

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?


9 responses to “India Trip – 2

  1. You are totally right. It doesn’t make any sense that the so called rich and educated are the ones who are still regressive in their attitude, not to mention their hypocrisy. Your poor cousin M…I cannot believe that her in-laws behaved in such a manner during the initial days…
    And caste differences..Sigh.. How can anyone in their right senses look down upon another person based on caste? Who cares whether one is a brahmin or non-brahmin anymore? But kudos to ur nana-nani…I am really happy that they did such a wonderful thing for M and her mom during their time, which must have been a few decades ago. Now, that is progressive!

    Me: You bet! I feel really proud of them, especially my nana who was the more progressive of the two I suspect.

  2. oh i so wish and pray we could find more like ur family, world would surely be a better place

    Me: Thanks Monika! I know my family’s not perfect, but in this instance I do admire their stand.

  3. You know, money has really nothing to do with how people think. But what values your parents brought you up with, has a lot to do with it. My household help, who is from a caste that maybe M’s inlaws would get apoplectic about, has a better life ethic and brilliant bringing up, that has nothing to do with money. You can see her children growing up with the same.

    Those families where the money god is considered supreme, often lack for judgement. I have known this clash of attitudes to happen in situations where 2 families of divergent values unite in a marriage. Almost always, how a boy comes across in a work environment hs nothing to do with how he functions in his house.

    I think it will take one more generation for things to change. Maybe M’s children will not have to face this kind of stuff, given that M can show them what decent values are all about.

    Me: True Suranga. I tell people who argue otherwise, it *may* have been true in the old days (when exposure was limited etc.) but surely you cannot think in the same way today? And like I said in my reply to D, I really hope things will change in our generation.

    People always try to be “upwardly compatible”. They think that’s progress. The real question is what is actually “upward” according to the family ….

  4. Whose going to speak up for change? Your cousin, M, will she? No, none of us do because we’re too interested in our own happiness to bother with things that would make a bigger difference.

    Me: Hmmm, isn’t that slightly cynical D? I really hope when our generation’s in charge (so to speak), a lot of these prejudices WILL go away. And about speaking up, I am working on a related post right now where I did speak up and try to clear at least one person’s (to my mind) misguided notions on this issue. Not a big deal, but it’s a start. Plus you have to admit it’s a tough situation for M to speak up in. She’s already had too many battles in her short married life to date.

    I understand where you are coming from D, but I think there’s hope! So many voices speaking up in the blogosphere itself is good na? 🙂

  5. i’m proud to ‘know’ you and in that sense.. know of your nana-nani. may their tribe increase…

    Me: Thank you MM – the feeling’s totally mutual – I hope you know that!!! 🙂 And their tribe IS increasing – at least I like to believe that.

    And let me confess – I am always so thrilled to see you here. Still an avid reader of your blog though a not-so-frequent commentator.

  6. Hi Devaki,
    Just yesterday , I took my and my sister’s maid dining out with me. We went to a pretty ‘hifi’ restaurant and I could see the contempt on most people’s faces! I dont mind eating with them on the same table and we discussed the merits( oops masalas) of the fish fry and what not. My maids stay in the same house and they perform a different role in the household. THATS IT!
    But it does take a lil courage for all!!

    Me: Good for you Bhavna! Something similar happened in my bachelor days too. I wanted to take our maid (who was the same age as us and a friend to me) to a movie she was keen to watch. My roomie simply refused to go with her!!! So I just had to go with the roomie once and with my other friend later. 🙂

  7. Well, I guess why these things are perpetuated is because it suits the interested party’s petty interests. But the day is not far when these differences will disappear. I think we will get to see that in our own lifetime. These have been economic divides and with the fast mixing society they will also vanish.
    best wishes to M,

    Me: I agree Mampi. I think our society is changing too. And maybe it can change faster if folks like us speak up and do more.

  8. It is sad that such anachronistic customs still exist. To discriminate on the basis of caste in the place of God is completely ironic. have you notices how people are quite happy to discard what doesn’t suit them but steadfastly cling to those that favor them? If humanity doesn’t prevail, laws will have to force them to treat people equally.

    Me: Exactly! I wonder how they never ‘get’ the irony!!!

  9. Yes, this caste thingy happens as simply as batting an eyelid, in almost all temples I know. Irks me to no end . Thankfully my parents sat among the ‘outside crowd’ many a times in spite of the scornful looks from so called fellow Brahmins. I enjoyed those lunches more .

    Hope your cousin M brings up her baby in a better world with saner people!

    Me: They did that? Wow! It was very good of them.

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