September 2009
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Kerala, Christians and her Bangles

(Life V3) (Personal)


Learning curve is not a straight line!


I think I am still growing up. And who can really grow up without going through the best and the worst of it? Somewhere on the line, I developed a very scary image of two sets of people: Keralites and Christians. And for me, these two sets overlapped to a large extent. And a weird part is that all this happened due to Rediff iLand. Before I made it my virtual home, I had only known our Keralite professor of chemical engineering, whom I revered as a role model. From Christians, I had one of my best friends and colleagues at my work place. Unfortunately, some things happened and my whole impression of them changed. Our core philosophies of life contradicted; I felt they treated their region and religion above the basic human relationships we shared; and I felt that they where emotionless and hardhearted; and the worst part: I generalised this to make such an impression of all Keralites and/or Christians.


Today we celebrated Traditional Day in our office. We went to office in traditional attires like Kurta and Saree, and all varieties of these. She had come to office in a Kerala attire. She had put on a cream white nice saree and lots of jewellery! While our group was having lunch together, I saw her jewellery and complimented her for those. I asked what those were, why those where like those, and if those were artificial ones. She said they were indeed artificial ones and costed only Rs 100. Understanding that I was fascinated with them, she said she can buy it for me if I like to have them. I asked her to buy me a set; I will gift it to my mother. And if mother finds them too flashy, I will give it to my sister. She promised to buy me better ones which have recently come to the shop! :) So nice :)


When I had joined my office, and got to know her, the first question that came to my mind after knowing her name was: she must be a Keralite! And is she a Christian? Her name indicated the first, but the second was not to be sure. When Onam came, all of us went to the Malayali speciality restaurant of her choice and had a Kerala lunch. They had served many kinds of food items and we kept asking her what those things were called. It was all vegetarian food. There is another Christian lady in our office whose attitude is slightly showy. She asked her if they would serve non-veg food too? Now my friend looked at her gently and replied: “This is considered to be a Brahmin’s food… This won’t contain any non-veg!” I wished I could gift her some million jewels – she loves Hindu culture despite being a Keralite and despite having a name which suspected her of being a Christian! Later on, my doubts got confirmed – she was indeed a Christian. I was disappointed :) Her voice still echoes in my ears – “This is a Brahmin’s food in Kerala! This won’t contain anything non-veg!” My respect for her had grown ten folds that afternoon. Well, ok, I was disappointed that she was a Christian. If she had shown some hatefulness towards Hindu culture or if she had ridiculed some North Indians, I won’t have been disappointed: those would have only confirmed my scary impressions towards Keralites and Christians. But she was so much like me! And this was about to challenge the scary impressions in my mind. I say ‘scary’ and not ‘negative’ because honestly, and due to my experiences with them (on iLand), the first feeling when I come across any Keralite and/or a Christian would be a scary feeling! I would expect them of being hateful and ridiculing towards Hindus and Hinduism and I would be scared like a kid! But my state of wonderment ended soon…


One lunch, we were talking about Bengali culture and customs. We have a very jolly Bengali colleague with us who keeps remembering Kolkata, keeps bringing potatoes in his lunch, and keeps miss-pronouncing some words – and we love him for each of these! :) Suddenly, she told us innocently – “My grandfather was a Bengali who converted to Christianity…” Shocking? Weird? Misplaced? Or SCARY? :)


Now the whole picture rotated in front of my eyes. The British had their capital in Calcutta and the Bengali bhadra manus had taken up many jobs in the government, becoming sarkari babus. Why did her grandfather convert to Christianity? I thought he would have done so to impress his master and gora senior and to gain his favour to get some promotions in his job. Or may be some of his Gora Sahebs asked him to convert. Or may be some Christian missionaries in Kolkata – and they are plenty of them there – brainwashed him. Or was it that he fell in love with a lady from Kerala who was a Christian and hence he converted to impress her? This conversion was not necessary to impress her as such – so I wondered: was the lady very rich and this guy wanted to get her at any cost and hence converted to her faith to gain acceptance of her parents? All options were negative and scary :) Whatever be the exact reason, it would definitely be in the negative side…


So she was a Christian – but it was because her one Hindu forefather decided to convert to Christianity. She was from Kerala – but it was because her Bengali grandfather chose to bring up his children that way. Now I didn’t know what happens to my initial ‘logical’, ‘clear’ and ‘conclusive’ way of looking at things. Now I couldn’t blame her for being a Christian or I couldn’t think she was a Keralite; her grandfather changed his family’s fate and future by his one action and she was not responsible for the things she had to pick up from her community and religion. After realising this, my judgemental attitude towards what she was and my logical way of looking why people are like the way they are got derailed. Now when I remember her – I remember her as a very nice woman, who loves Indian culture and appreciates good things in Hindus; who wears beautiful glittering bangles some times, and who will buy better ones for my mother :) Who cares, if she was a Keralite or a Christian? :)


But I wish all of them were like she is…