Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Feast for the Brahmins

I have always refrained from writing about my mother-in-law in this blog. But this time I cannot resist myself as what took place last night is a prime example of how backward most of us Indians are till this day and age. For those of you who don't know, my mother-in-law lives in Sacramento and has been here for nearly 20 years now. So last night she invited the sons of her close friend for dinner who will be leaving for college soon. We were also asked to join. I had just washed my hands in preparation to chop some veggies for a salad, when she requested me to taste the mashed potatoes. I scooped some of the potatoes with my finger , tasted it and told her it needed more salt with no intention of digging my finger back into the bowl. Now she must have misunderstood me and thought I would go for a second round of tasting with that same finger but even then what she said next came to me as a shock.
"Don't touch the mashed potatoes. There are Brahmins who will be eating this food!"

Did I hear that right??? Was I just taken back to the Indian caste system and told that I couldn't touch the food because I was from a lower caste? This was my initial reaction. I was mad and felt insulted on so many different levels not to mention the very basic that she assumed I didn't have manners and also because it might be okay to double dip some else's food if they were not Brahmins. I don't really know what it was but last night as I lay in bed trying to forget what had just happened, I realized that most Indians are this way (please note, I did not say 'all').

This is also the reason why our country finds it so hard to move ahead. Most of it I understand is due to lack of a better education and understanding of our religion. But what about those Indians who are educated, have respectable jobs, traveled around the globe living comfortable lives which do not bog them down with the atrocities of some heinous religious practices like in old days - people like my mother-in-law? I have met so many of them here in the U.S. It amazes me how they are still centuries behind irrespective of how modern their lifestyles might me. I am not saying for a second that being religious is a bad thing. But blindly practicing rituals in the name of religion and condemning others, is not what makes a person religious.

For most people who are acquainted with me might think I'm not religious. I am. Just not in the same way. Thanks to my father, I was never forced into any particular religion. I have always heard him mention the Bible and Quran as he did the Gita. To me, Karma is my dharma. I went to a school founded by one of the pioneers of Brahmo Samaj. Back in those years they fought for the abolition of sati and the caste and dowry systems. They gave great importance to enlightenment and education versus idol worship. They moved us ahead and it seems like now we are moving back again. The educated and affluent Indians are more caught up in donating huge sums of money to build bigger and better temples, gurdwaras and mosques in an age where our country is still plagued with poverty and death.


ArSENik said...

I thought Brahmins were never supposed to eat too much anyway. They are supposed to thrive on veggies and fruit and similar kind of natural gibberish and pray for the Khatriyas' success at war and the business caste's (can't remember the name now) successful business. Real food was ideally for the Kshatriyas who fought and the business people since they could afford it.

OK OK jokes aside, chill out. I say your guests were lucky enough that you invited them over in the first place.

Salty said...

Can it be that your mother-in-law was making a "traditional" jibe at you? "Saas-bohu" kind? And in doing so , she helped herself with an archaic custom that she herself may not believe in?

Or, why did it take you so long to find out that your mother-in-law is a casteist?

Beats me.

TravelVixen said...

Well, I'm clearly not Indian, so I don't have a whole lot of input on this - at least not from an insider's perspective. I'm the last person to defend any kind of system that holds one person as superior to another. However, I will say this: when people (in this I include myself) make changes to their life that take them away from their roots, their home, the way of life they grew up with, often times they end up holding on incredibly tightly (and sometime irrationally) to traditions and rituals from that time and place, in order to remain connected and rooted to who they are. I'm not saying it's right but I personally have found this to be true. It just offers and explanation of sorts for why your MIL may be holding onto some of these antiquated beliefs, even after 20 years.

TravelVixen said...

Ready for a new post now, Ms. Mala...