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India Amalgamated – Life in Government Service
Having been brought up to believe that the only caste that exists is that of humankind, it seemed to me a peculiarly strange thing to say. Now I do wish the parents who go around ostracising their progeny because they have married out of the sub-caste, and political parties who ratify this ... would realise this too!
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“But then you got married out of caste after all” said my neighbor’s mom dismissively, shaking her head at my complete lack of knowledge or interest in the ceremonial rituals surrounding the festival of the month. Indians, as you may well know, have a festival in each month and now with the Global Indian having whole heartedly embraced Thanksgiving and Halloween, we tend to have two or more celebrations in some months, varying from the historically commemorated national ones to the newly discovered global ones or suddenly-making-a-resurgence and taking centre stage regional ones, like kodchagiri poornima.
In any case, I did a double- take and then a triple-take when she said that. Having been married for more than 30 years now, I am more used to having conversations around possible destination choices for friends’ children’s weddings rather than have anyone express an opinion around my own three decade old marriage. Added to that, a conversation around caste?
Unfortunately as we have seen in the past few years, your provenance and your spouse’s equal and matching (or not matching) provenance has suddenly become a matter of vital and critical interest for the nation, the political parties, the courts and your neighbor’s mom, as if we are all rarefied seeds who can flourish only in a particular soil and ethos, rather than the displaced versions of dandelions which we really are, if you truly know your history.
My parents fortunately had the good sense to not only be public spirited but also public sector employees, in the optimistic era when the PSUs were the backbone of a speedily growing economy, organizations filled with nationalistic fervor of building a country in an environment where caste and creed was of no interest or consequence to anyone. Thus the various ONGC colonies we resided in, during several sojourns in different parts of the country, resembled if anything, a miniature version of India Amalgamated. Life was egalitarian in its best form and the only thing that distinguished neighbors from UP and Gujarat from other assorted neighbors from Punjab and Bengal, was the delicious and varied cuisine in each household and the smells that emanated as a result. We played and fought and made up, and moved from city to city, meeting old friends again and making new ones within that enchanted circle, and the only label that defined each of us, whichever part of the country we may have originally come from, was that of being part of the large ONGC family.
Subsequently I got married into a household where caste again was treated with the derision it deserved and nobody in the family really gave a nickel for region, background and caste or the rituals of comportment that created divisions within them. As an exemplar when my brother-in-law was getting married, the priest begun getting increasingly agitated since the family could not answer a single question around family deity, sub-caste, or gotra that he sought to conduct the marriage vows. Till finally in frustration, he asked irritated, “At least can you tell me the name of your forefathers and from whom you have descended?” To which my brother-in-law with a straight face responded, “We are descendants of Luv-Kush, sons of Sri Ram”. The priest was flummoxed and later had a major apoplectic fit in the privacy of his chambers, but the marriage ceremony concluded without a hitch!
No wonder I was taken aback at this reference to ’’out of caste’ my neighbor made. Having been brought up to believe that the only caste that exists is that of humankind, it seemed to me a peculiarly strange thing to say. Now I do wish the parents who go around ostracizing their progeny because they have married out of the sub-caste, and political parties who ratify this, and goons who break shop windows to show their true allegiance to something I am sure they are also fuzzy about, would realize this too!
Or maybe they need to spend a few years in an army or ONGC colony to learn that “we are all involved in mankind” after all, and have descended from the same East African gene pool of Homo sapiens?
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.