I am a lazy person. In every aspect. It takes a lot to shake me out of a torpor and write about anything of any significance. Since you are reading this, you may rest assured I have been shaken out of a 2 year-long torpor.
A part of life is the pageantry that accompanies festivals. It doesn’t help matters that I was born into a Brahmin family; ergo, customs and traditions become so much more sacrosanct. Granted, they have their significance, but in the rush to do these things “right”, this significance is forgotten. Having faced this “don’t ask questions, just do as I say” directive long enough, I have rejected religion. I figured, we have enough real boogeymen to face without fabricating invisible ones for ourselves.
As atheist as I am, my mother’s recent spiritual rediscovery has been more than a tad uncomfortable for me. Over the past year, I have been taking up a monthly ritual, the Amavasai Tharpanam, with special offerings on the days where the solstice is reversing. Today happened to be the latter.
For these rituals, I have been going to a vadhyar who stays close to my place. The man is the personification of every form of Brahminical patriarchy and superiority that can be conceived. He remains, however, blissfully unaware of the fact and ploughs on with his warped world view, with several Iyer mamas/ cronies parroting him. He also takes it upon himself to parade unmarried people to all these Iyer mamas so that they may help the unencumbered souls get an ideal varan/vadhu.
I have been paraded thus several times, sold to the Iyer mamas/cronies as a dependable husband. In itself, this behaviour seems like networking and trying to be helpful. When done multiple times over, it is a short skip and step away from being addressed as pimping.
Coming back to today, the day began with a quick shower after the morning coffee. After this, I left to vadhyar’s house, praying for quick completion of the ritual, unimpeded by Iyer mamas. I got there, to find there was one person ahead of me, a regular, and another new person, looking quite downcast. Hoping to avoid chit-chat with the regular, I chose to sit apart from the group, remaining within earshot, however. This allowed me to observe the newcomer. About 35, a long face with bags under the eyes, a week old stubble and long straight hair till his shoulders, which he’d pulled back with a steel hair-band. At his age, the hairband was merely a matter of questionable fashion choice.
Vadhyar, however, thought otherwise.
Spotting the hair-band, he told the newbie to immediately remove it, stating that women wear such things and mentioning to him that “those Nepalis you see around here, they have such hairstyles. They are Shudhras, and it is OK for them; you are a ‘brahmanan’ and should have short hair”
“……. They are Shudhras, and it is OK for them; you are a ‘brahmanan’ and should have short hair“
I sat there, aghast at the flippant way an entire race was addressed as a group of Shudhras. Here was a man, comfortable in his own warped world-view, nestled in his cocoon, so self-absorbed and ignorant that he did not bat an eyelid before denigrating a community. (Fun fact: Brahmins are the 2nd largest ethnic group in Nepal, with the Yadavs, the upper-castes’ favourite doormat, forming only 4% of the population)
Stepping back from the incident and taking a long perspective here, it is clear that this is a systemic problem. Racial bias and stereotyping have normalised to such an extent, that the people who face it end up believing that to be their worth. The man who should be demonised here is merely a puppet, a product of a deeply rotten society which has trundled on for so many centuries, perpetuating oppression on communities they believe to be inferior.
I left soon after, speaking very little to vadhyar during the ritual. Perhaps it is my upbringing or an intrinsic value system I believe in, but I stopped myself from being harsh to him, muttering to myself under my breath “Respect the age, if not anything else”. I gave him the dakshina for the ritual and left, picking up plantain leaves for the lunch on the way home. As I entered the apartment, I spotted my apartment security guy saluting me. I smiled to myself, wondering if he saluted because he actually respects me or just believes in my “superior race”. Ah, well…