Sunday, September 16, 2007

On being Kannadiga, Brahmin, Smartha; and why our family is truly going global.

So, we are on the fast track to be a True Global Family.
Yes, yes; our proud Brahmin cousin has gathered some from somewhere and has somehow managed one Amreekan chick to go wee! with him. Chick is NRI type, but hey, Amreeki prajaa at any cost.
(You, and you, shove that smirk up where no sun does shine indeed. She'll get to go to Pravasi Bharateeya Divas and take part in discussions about the magically charming experience that is being the diaspora, all the while sipping masala chai and munching garma garam pakode. Can you, CAN you, huh, HUH?)

While I anticipated the need for multiple defibrillators to go beep-beep all over the town accompanied by unequivocal screams of "Ayyo ayyo, dharmabhrashTha", I was certainly not ready for what followed.
Practised nonchalance, that's what did.
The slew of Maavas, Attes, Chikkappas, Chikkammas, Bhaavas, Attiges, Maidunas, Naadinis, Doddammas, Doddappas, Shadkas, Orgittis, (assortment of relatives, for my non-Kannadiga readers) and alphabetagammas cold shouldered the expectant piece of information. It even turned a shade green, when an atte, doing her morning tulsi-katte rounds with MSS for background music, stopped for the cameras and impatiently said, "Oh is that all, my sister in law's grand niece got married to an American. Actual one you know; white skin, golden hair, blue eyes, with names like The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel."

It also came to pass at some family functions about how our big Doddappa's response to the news was to look up about 10 degrees, between Keshavaaya svaaha and Madhavaaya svaaha.
What a perfectly undesired anticlimax.

How did we get to be thus?
Us, the true pioneers of "Aaj se sochlo ke tere maa-baap mar gaye"-type disowning; us, the true followers of the tenet that goes, "Don't let your children get married to anybody non-Kannadiga, non-Brahmin, and non-SMARTHA".
(Who said it? Well, I am assuming someone great. But then, I digress.)
So, let's start from how it all was, and let's end at where it has, and more importantly why.

There was a time when hurried whispers would flow with the vigor of electricity through a marriage hall when, "Radha atte, did you know Subbanna chikkappa's wife's nephew is married to a Madhwa Brahmin (whisper gasp) and they are Yajurvedis (whisper ayyo) and they speak Telugu at home (whisper scream)". And thus it would circulate, from Kanjeevaram to Kanjeevaram, from Mysore silk to Mysore silk, so by the end of the day, even if nobody knew the names of the bride and groom involved in that elaborate excuse for a lunch, everybody would know of the renegade that was Subbanna chikkappa's wife's nephew.

Then of course were the legendary horoscope mismatches.

Of the girl belonging to Rakshasa gana, and our boy being of Manava gana, and how she would eat him up; of the unfortunate girl of Ashlesha nakshatram who had to be betrothed to a family without a mother-in-law, and they found none for her; or of the couple who had the perfect horoscopes (28 points. Score!) but had to not be married because there was a possibility of their child suffering a fall seven years hence. Some Shani or Kuja influence or something. Tsk tsk.

So, there it was. Perfectly normal situation, with the Ontikoppal almanac deciding which side we would go to bed to, and at what time we would sip the morning coffee; with MS Subbulakshmi reverberating every morning on the RED National Panasonic stereo, egging Rama on to get up and kick Maareecha-Subaahu's collective butt.
But, that was the calm before the storm.
The storm came to the tune of tring-tring.

"Hello?", amma said.
"Hello, S chikkamma", said cousin from the other end.
"So, how come you remembered this fat aunt; what an unexpected surprise (sic). You never call for no reason, so go on tell me whatitees?"
"Err, I am going to get married. That's what mummy wanted to tell you last time she had called, but she couldn't get around to saying it, because you started discussing the new serial on E-TV, and then the recipes for chakli, koDbaLe, and then the design patterns on your new sarees; and also because she couldn't bring herself to tell you anything"
"Oh shut up, but this is so exciting! So, is the girl fair, well-read, Kannadiga, Smartha-Brahmin, of agreeable Gothra-Nakshatra-Gana, with a software-engineer brother in the Silicon Valley?"
"Erm, no"
"Then, in the UK?"
"Erm, no. The girl is fair and well-read already, but when I fell in love with her, I forgot to ask her nakshatra and gothra"
"Oh God, go on"
"She is not Kannadiga, she is Bihari"
"She is not Brahmin"
"Her G-N-G, I don't care about, as also her brother. I couldn't care less if he was from Silicon Valley or Diagon Alley"
"Oh good lord of Tirupati, what is happening! And her brother is diagonal? What do you mean? Not straight?"
"Jesus, he's not gay"
"What is gay?"
"May be this is what a heart attack feels like."

(The next family function, needless to say, was filled with conversations about the apostasy. "Bhojpuri? What is that, something like Pani Puri?", "No ma, they are some kind of sarees no?", "Eyy, isn't that Manipuri?", "Then what is Bhojpuri?")

And thus crumbled the cookie. The first "close" cousin to have gone "astray". There have been of course pioneers before and after him, for what is the Mile sur mera tumhara-isation of our pure-bred Kannadiga Brahmin family.
There was the bride from the "lower caste".
There was the distant cousin who got married to a British woman.
There was, of course, the Madhwa Brahmin girl (Amma said, "Now THIS is sacrilege")
Much before, there was the very distant relative who got married to an Australian, had multiple children (to satisfy Australia's craving for human population), and even named one of his children a hybrid name - Joseph Narasimhaiah!

So, thus thawed this obsession with the caste, sub-caste and the sub-sub-caste. Although it does rear its ugly head on the rare occasion, for the most part, our family has ceased to be the epicenter of religio-seismological activity. Which is why the Punjabis, the Biharis, the British, the Australians all exist under the all too albatross-ian wings that is our family.
We are looking for some west Indian representation though, no not the cornrows and banjo variety, but the Marathi-Gujarati kind. Dhokla and Puranpoli would be nice additions to our multi-cuisine accustomed palate. Sarson da saag, we are hoping would be nice.
As for my own brother, he is free to take the plunge with anybody, I guess. Caste no bar. Harijan, Girijan, Mahajan. Anybody.

That leaves me.
Since I am SO into shock-and-awe, this kind of tepid reaction is SO not done. I am looking for announcements that can still make them go "Ayyo, ayyo, ayyo."

May be I should tell them I am gay.
But then, they wouldn't know what that is, and on being told what it is, they wouldn't believe it and say, "such things happen only in America", and if I insisted even then, a havan, of course. Nothing stands the wrath of the fire god, no, not even homosexuality.
So, that won't go down too well.

Or, may be I should show them a picture of Venus Williams or better still, Cher (pink-orange wig in place), and say I am actually attracted to her.

Or may be, you guys could come up with things I could tell them.

P.S.: In case of some cousins who might read this (although the possibility is remote), I love you all. You make life worth living. World peace be with you.

P.P.S.: Despite what I might tell you, my family completely over-reacted, with one even citing old Kannada film dialogues for effect. How I wish they behaved like I wanted them to. I am just too liberal ya, whattodo.


Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Short Story About Love

PumpkinPie, SweetyBootyCutiePoo to his mother, he was just Fatboy in school. Golu, HumpDump, Door No.88, on different days, among different friends.
School is school; and fat boys are fat boys. They get the taunts, the nicknames, the occasional being-pushed-into-mud, the not so occasional "Miss, Golu farted", nothing out of the ordinary.

When his classmates found that he had no intentions of rising to any gibes about his fourth chin, or the way a fold of his knickers seemed to be buried within his buttocks constantly, they simply left him alone, contenting themselves with the poem most schoolchildren knew, about fat Mr. and Mrs.88.

And this, suited him excellently.

It had been six months since he had moved schools. The last one showed him the boot citing 'Incompatibility with school rules' and in a post script the Transfer Certificate added, 'Adjustment problems; uncontrolled rage'. All because he jammed a classmate's head between the wall and the bench, when the poor boy asked for place to sit next to him.

"What sort of a school is this? Four children to a bench! And you call yourselves an International School! Which country, Rwanda?", his mother had fumed at the Principal.
"Madam, you don't understand, the other children are afraid of him", the Principal tried his most diplomatic tone.
"Afraid? Let them be. Let them cower under their seats, and turn out just like you. Look at you wuss, sweating all over like a pig before slaughter. Here, take this napkin. And do go shopping today. Who knows, you may even grab a pair", she had screamed, her face looking redder than her Banaras sari, leaving the Principal's face grayer than his jacket.

For all her bravado, the ashen faced Principal sought his revenge with that spleen filled Transfer Certificate. The conduct and attitude column seemed like, she cried, "an excerpt from Jack the Ripper's diary, and this is just a well-fed 9-year old for Christ's sake!". But then, giving up was never her thing.

The revenge however paid off. She found no school that was ready to take on her rather big, not to mention rambunctious bundle of joy.
School after school, no after no.
Three months, about twenty schools.
The peering, ever-scrutinizing gazes of the school heads, and their eventual refusal to take him in made her haughtier initially, disconcerted her five schools later, slightly unnerved her a few more schools later, and by the twentieth she was convinced there hid Satan under that Farex baby exterior.

Then started the third degree.
The beating. The morebeating.
The yelling. The toomuchyelling.
The giving little food. The giving toolittlefood. The giving no food AtAll.
The last worked. Like a charm.

So, four months and twenty three reluctant schools later, the arrogant mass of lard had been shaped into being a being of silence, of passivity, of MindingOne'sOwnBusiness; with a much drilled into credo of "Chuppee". The great story that would be recounted many a time by local mothers as The Chupping of the Thupper.

And this suited him excellently, making him realize the joys of non-alignment, of being the audience.
Reduced, and muted; ostracized and ignored.
Unashamed, accustomed to a solitude of a new kind, he began to enjoy his near-invisibility. From his position at the edge of the school and the school's life, he wrote postcards to himself, taking vicarious pleasure in the activities of those around him; quietly celebrating the rise or fall of this or that playground emperor, or the examination debacles of a particularly unappetizing classmate, or in one case, peering through evidently inefficient Venetian blinds to discover the sweaty tandem functioning of the ayah and the gamekeeper - ah, the myriad delights of the spectator; ah, the proximity a pair of opera-glasses could bring; ah, the webs of stories weaved in whispers.

But he remained silent through it all.
Amused, but quietly.
But then, how long can one keep that thing which is innately theirs suppressed? For instance, could this author ever refrain from using long clauses, and thus longer sentences?
Could the bully ever be content with solitude? Could the threat of being not fed Krunchy Krackers hold out for that long? If not bash up people, as he was wont to, was he not tempted to even attempt human contact?
This is against all acceptable 9 year old boy behaviour. The author didn't intend him to be thus. There needs to be some action taken. I can't possibly make my protagonist feel above regular human emotions. Reformed bullies have emotions too. Haven't we seen that in enough and more Hindi films?

(The author, that is I, likes drastic changes, because they are well, so drastic, and because sometimes they are needed when met with a cul de sac.
So, here is one such drastic change.)

He is bored. Yes.
He, our hero, our fatboy erstwhile-bully-now-silent-to-the-point-of-being-silly, has gotten bored of his opera-glass ways, and longs, much like the Charulata he never knew, for the comfort of human beings, for the simple joys of playing tic-tac-toe that the other kids seemed to like so much.

He is bored, he is bored, he is very very bored, and pleads with the author to deliver him from a life so young, but so scarred, in succession by a bully history, a bullier mom, and now a fully dull solitude.

(The author considers, reconsiders, and comes up with what can be the only satisfactory remedy)


Enter girl. Girls, the cause and solution to all men's problems.

Enter girl. Saturday. Hero still bored. No uniform day. Thrown his opera-glasses. Pink pinafore skirt. Sulks at the edge of the compound. Purple little purse. Catches sight of pink-purple blurb. Who is that? Twiddles thumbs. OH! That boy! OH! This girl! He seems sad. Why is she here? Wonder why he is the quiet sort, and always with those binoculars. God, the girl is always yakking, and always adjusting her hair. What's his name, I've forgotten. What's her name, I don't remember. Must be Fatty, ha ha. Must be Pinky, HA HA. May be he has seen where my hairband is. Oh god, here she comes.

"Hi", she said chirpily, extending a warm hand, wiping the hair out of her face, what with the hairband missing.
"Hello", he tried swallowing the tennis ball that seemed jammed in his throat, wiping the fat sweaty palm on his khaki knickers.

Solitude, shmolitude.
He had found his first crush.

(The protagonist is glad that the author endorses time-tested cliches. As for the author, he just likes happy endings.)