Matters Closer to Home

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…

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In Memoriam

Have you noticed that while some topics can easily get you to pen down your thoughts,  others can potentially weigh down like an anchor, stopping our cognitive writing process? This is one of those. I’ve written this first paragraph nearly 4 times and still it doesn’t feel right. But I am going to let things be and ramble on a bit here

My thoughts go back to last year, about 11 months ago to be precise, when I was jolted out of my comfort zone by two successive tragedies, the passing of 2 of my students. I say this with a deep sense of loss springing from a sense of belonging; having taught both batches various subjects puts me close enough to calling them my pet batches. However, that’s much beside the point here. 

While both deaths were immeasurable in the sense of loss, our methods of coping were fraught with much of the same problems we face on a daily basis. We indulged ourselves in self blame, reproach, introspection. I say this because I did much of the same. It was a disturbing feeling to watch two of my students being loaded onto a gurney and carted off for autopsies on successive weeks. I went home after Cruthina’s death and cried. 20 is not an age to go, I kept saying to myself.

Subsequent days were spent asking “why didn’t we see it coming?” “I wish they were back; I would want to tell them I was there for them” “I wish I’d told him to be careful. Because it needn’t be your fault; shit can happen” so on and so forth. But it is a self effacing moment when you realise that you are an idiot to believe they were worth your while only after their death. Whoever said experience is the best teacher obviously hadn’t dealt with the human condition of being comfortable in ignorance and inaction.

In retrospect, I see the passing of my father as a lesson on how not to be during a death. The deaths of Nagarajan and Cruthina served me a lesson in its own right. It’s OK to speak to someone and tell them things will be OK. It’s OK to hug a person and tell them you love them and care for them; life can be filled with lesser regrets. It’s OK to ask a person to be careful while riding. It’s OK to message a person saying you reached safely. Small things like these, when missed, leave the largest regrets. Those will be the ones which will eventually destroy your peace.

RIP dad, Nagarajan and Cruthina. Aching to see you once again.

Love, Sharad

Kalyana Samayal Saadham

​Social media has always been a double edged sword. You can sometimes impale yourself through the sheer stupidity shared online by the left, the right and the bang smack centre. At other times, you find yourself cutting through the hubris of modern existence which manifests itself on social media. Which brings me to this person I would like to talk about. Indhuja Pillai. A 25 year old travel blogger & biker, among several other things. I am yet to meet someone in person, who has the kind of spunk this lady has.

I started following her after her quite brilliant rant featuring this website (link here). Also following her blog here (link here) and on Facebook and Instagram. She’s a free spirit, unencumbered by societal pressures  (yet) and her rants make for quite amazing coffee conversation. Here’s the thing, though; at some point, you start feeling a bit of Deja vu, especially when you sail in the same metaphorical boat as many other 20-30 somethings who are single, matrimonial search. And coming back to Indhuja, or as she calls herself, IP, she faces a similar problem. How she tackles said problem, though, is simply breathtaking, as seen here in this photo  (link here). All this circum-navigation brings me to the context it bears for me

I’m currently going through this phase where my mother is trying to convince me that somehow “matrimony shopping” will somehow bring me one step closer to my chosen one. And it’s worth noting that such honesty on the matrimonial profiles, as shown here,  makes you an instant reject. Because, you know, such honesty is not a publicly acceptable trait (Shāntham Pāpam, enna kandrāvi da idhu! Kudipeyā?).

Special side note: I have been fairly active on the matrimonial website, and let me tell you, nothing is more demoralising. The daunting task you face in sending someone an interest is bad enough; the depression your family goes through when many people you send interests reject you really is the sucker punch. They start doubting your capabilities and bring your confidence and self worth down till the point where you feel worthless if you aren’t an ATM cash point vomiting currency constantly. I won’t blame them; they are family and they have your best interests at heart. But such is society and its inbreeding nature that it imposes standards much beyond your current abilities. And since humans can be so trusted to make the best choices for themselves, they have left this system to be, putting parents through mental agony, year after year.

Dear parents, a word of advice. The reason why most youngsters look to avoid marriage is because you have reduced it to a checklist of quantifiable traits that is to be satisfied. Want evidence for that? Look at the separation and divorce rate amidst youngsters in the 30-40 range right now. When people are going by the dishonesty professed on the matrimonial sites, you are bound to be disappointed. Such disappointment leads to resentment and resentment spawns hatred, which brings in the divorce.

Another thing. Please, do not consider our marriage as your responsibility. And please do not tie your “responsibility” on our heads; your only responsibility, if at all any, was to raise us well and provide us with ample education and a hunger to prove ourselves. (Side note to my mother and late father: thank you for everything)

I guess the only thing left to say is this: parents, leave us be. And don’t worry if your son/daughter does not satisfy society’s accepted standards of living. Someone will come along for them. They only need you to be the most honest representation of yourself, and a matrimonial algorithm is not going to help bring that out.

I dedicate this post to you Indhuja Pillai . Kudos for calling a spade a spade. I hope that I can meet you someday so that I can take off my proverbial hat to you.

For the original FB post click here

Strangers at Vidyarthi Bhavan

I’ve always wanted to write a blog of my own. However, circumstances have been such that I’ve convinced myself over and over that I’m “not in the right mood”. You might be thinking, is there a right mood at all? I think so, though. That mood happens when everything just falls into place perfectly, or when you witness something that influences you profoundly. My “current mood” comes from the latter.

Deepavali brings with it the annual urge to binge shop for clothes. I decided to take my mum out shopping to Desi. She hadn’t been there ever so I knew she would enjoy herself. An hour later, at 5 in the evening, we find ourselves leaving there with happy hearts and lighter wallets. Since we were in the vicinity of the place, I suggested an evening snack at Vidyarthi Bhavan, to which she readily agreed.

For the uninitiated, Vidyarthi Bhavan is a famous eating joint situated in the heart of Basavanagudi, Bangalore. One of the oldest eateries in town, this is still holding its own in the midst of McDonald’s, KFC and other forms of coronary embolism. It’s lost a lot of its old class, though; what remains is homage to a fading legacy. However, the charm is never lost; more than one patron will swear to have “been there when DVG was dining on the table across him”.

Going through the customary wait of getting a seat, we eventually made our way to the back of the seating area. Across us was an elderly couple; a pair of retirees still buying into the “pensioner’s paradise” hoax. As we proceeded to sit, the lady leaned onto the man rather awkwardly, in what could be misinterpreted as PDA. My first thought was, “that’s so quaint; she’s keeping romance alive”. A second later that thought evaporated; elderly lady, prim and properly dressed in a lovely saree showing PDA? Something seemed amiss. Surely enough, it was; next moment she leaned her head back. I noticed that the right side of her face had become slack as she leaned, and her eyes were starting to roll backwards. I realised then that I was bearing witness to a cardiac incident.

The husband was initially unperturbed, pretending nothing was really wrong. Attempts to get the lady to swallow some water and sugar were useless, however. The situation would have devolved completely, were it not for a doctor who was there at that very moment. She, with the patience of a Buddhist monk, convinced the husband that it was necessary to shift her right away to the hospital, and assisted the lady until her husband came with their vehicle. All this amidst the sea of humanity that came forward with free advice ranging from feeding her salt to pickle. Finally, the husband came and the lady was assisted out by several patrons. As she returned to her seat, I asked her and confirmed that it was a cardiac incident; her pulse was erratic and she had become cold. She acknowledged that identifying someone is having a cardiac incident immediately can save up valuable time. I nodded, quite speechless from the turn of events, and turned back to my untouched dosa. As I was midway through the dosa, she tapped my shoulder, said thank you  (for what, I don’t know), and departed, just another face in the crowd.

I felt the need to write this, because several widely opposite aspects of human behaviour came to the fore here. First, the doctor whose name I failed to ask. She personified calmness and handling the situation without causing a scene. Second, the patrons and the manager of the eatery. The constant scurrying around for work and satisfying everyday wants seems to have numbed people’s senses; not being able to identify human behaviour and interpret it will be our biggest Achilles’ heel. Third, the husband. No doubt there are brownie points for calling your wife normal in public, but there is a time and place for it. She might have no problems at all but that does not mean she will be immune for life. Mansplaining is also something all husbands are guilty of, at some point of time. It speaks volumes of how patriarchal we are as a society, and how far we must go before treating both/all sexes as equal and worthy of respect.