Monday, August 16, 2010

Xenophobic Me! (Part 2)

Continuing with my earlier blog of my rantings on Xenophobia and myself and dealing with it…..I start of, reasoning why is it that Indians like me find it so hard to blend into the American Culture.  Why we are xenophobic even within our own country…?

Since most of us Indians immigrated to the USA after flying between continents' had become a common phenomenon. There was no stopping us from going back to our countries now and then, to get our dose of culture,  meet our families and re-experience the surroundings where we grew up in, to introduce all that to our children. In this quest for getting the best of  both the worlds, I think,  its taking us longer for people like me to fit into the common American lifestyle.

Being among different cultures is not new to Indians. Even among Indians there are such big cultural differences, huge cultural divides. One will find North Indians, South Indians, Delhites, UPites, Tamilians, Kanadigas, Gult’s(Telugu), Gujarati’s, Punjabi’s, Anglo Indians and so on..Among the 1600+ languages spoken in India and the countless dialects, the Indian Government has given an official recognition to 22 or so languages. People from different regions speak different languages and their culture is as diverse as their language and its script.. Even here, people tend to stick with people from their own regions/religions/languages/caste.

I belong to a mixed background with my parents belonging to both North and South India. So, growing up has been a confusing journey for me, trying to fit into both these cultures. Their dressing style, languages, food are so different. There were almost 4 languages between my parents and the place where they immigrated to, Hyderabad. So, they decided to speak Hindi at home to save us, kids from confusion. Maybe it has not helped us, learn either Punjabi or Marathi or Kannada or Telugu or Hindi properly(in the sense of Jack of all but Master of None) but, I’m able to talk and mix with a larger population of Indians,due to this exposure.  From popular magazines and articles, I now know that language pundits and pediatricians encourage parents with multilingual backgrounds to continue talking in all the secondary languages to the child.  The child will eventually develop better language skills and be multilingual.

Apart from the language, there’s another thing called caste in India. When we were shot questions by outsiders as kids, asking us what are we? (Yes! people take such liberties in India, especially with kids, maybe they didn’t dare to question that directly to my parents!)  I used to be so confused and speechless. Do they want to know what language we speak? or my religion or they want to know if we are Brahmans, or Kshatriya's, or Vaishyas or Shudras. I didn’t know. We didn’t speak all that at home. My parents didn't think it was important information to share with us. I was sure we were Hindus and we go to temple.  I would answer “Hindus and we speak Hindi.”
School was a very innocent period for me. By rule, we were required to talk in English at school, so, most of us at school were not interested in knowing what language your classmate spoke at home or what religion she belonged to. But, after school came college, I started to get aware of all this. Most of my knowledge of the different religions and sects and sub sects and castes came as big jolts. And I realized that there is actually a very big divide among people I live around,

When it came to marriage, people made sure their kids married into their own caste, otherwise, the family doesn’t accept the marriage, in some dire cases, the village would get against the couple and harass them. Even today, I read a news article of a suicide by a couple who were being harassed by their village for marrying outside their caste. They didn't see any way out of it.

Sometimes, the parents think that its in the best interest of their kids to marry within their own community so, their children can be well adjusted and there is another reason for this, among the business communities that I came to know, is to keep the wealth within the community (yeah! I never thought in those lines). To make matters worse to the next level, It was just not enough to be a Brahman to marry another Brahman, or Kshatriya, to marry another Kshatriya and so on..There are many more sub sects too.
We had our share of dealing with this when it was time for my parents to start looking for a match for me. Should it be a Punjabi guy or a guy from the South? Not wanting to get into this mess, I decided to go abroad for further studies and my parents seconded it and there I was in USA.

It is so true that marriages are made in Heaven. No, I couldn’t have chanced upon meeting Pavan in Tirupati when I visited the place during some of our pilgrimage trips, or during the time he came to Hyderabad on some of his trips. But, we did meet and where?! half way across the world from our homes. Luckily for me, Pavan came from a multilingual family too. So, being from a multilingual family was not an issue for his parents, then it was caste. Even if the castes were the same, there would be problems with the sub-caste and so on…there is no stopping at finding a reason to disagree, right!!. But then, it was the case of “Miya Biwi razi”, toh kya karega Kazi”, so with a little spice and drama, his family eventually accepted the situation and we got married.

It has taken me years to understand that there is a larger reason for the existence of such a divide among Hindus. At a higher level, its this. Every religion need to know its beginning, when it started. Same with Hinduism too, right!!. It is very difficult to trace the exact beginning of Hinduism,its founder(s), But, there have been many leaders in Hinduism who reformed and/or revived traditions thus breaking people into many sub-groups and consolidating them. Prominent among these scholars are the ones who defined the Vedanta Philosophy.

Vedanta is a Sanskrit word that means Veda-anta or Veda-end. Its used to describe the final part of the Vedas,  the texts that belonged to the end of the Vedic Period, called Upanishads. This school of thought was based on the combined interpretations of the three sacred sources called

1. Upanishads

2. Bhagavad-gita

3. Vedanta-sutra

These people who defined these philosophies were the acharya(s) meaning “one who teaches by example”. 

The important acharyas are
1. Sankara Acharya(780-812) CE He founded the Advaita School of philosophy. This philosophy saying that the nature of reality is non-dual(Advaita).  He asserted that there is only one ultimate thing in nature, and its God, every thing else was Maya or illusion. He also founded the 10 orders of sanyasa. He is also considered as the incarnation of Shiva by his followers. Shaivism's principles are associated with asceticism. Even Shiva is depicted as a yogi meditating in the Himalayas. Shaivism believes in avatars but, less pronunced than Vaishnavism. We have various avatars of Shiva, as Rudra (angry), Nataraja(God of Dance), Linga the symbol that represents "indivisible two-in-oneness of male and female, the passive space and active time from which all life originates"

2. Madhva Acharya,(1238-1317)AD. He founded the Dvaita School of Philosophy which asserts that the nature of reality is dual (Dvaita), meaning that this universe is comprised of two distinct principles, , namely God and everything else. His followers are the worshipers of Vishnu and his avatars. The dasha-avatar but, mainly Rama and Krishna.

3. Ramanuja Acharya (1017-1137)AD. He founded the Vishista Dvaita (qualified non-duality). For Ramanuja, 3 distinct things existed in the world, God, Soul and Matter. Without one the other could not exist.  as a unity they were Advaita(non-dual) yet, they were distinct in their essence. His followers are worshipers of Vishnu too.

Later Theologians, created many derivative interpretations like Dvaita-Advaita, and so on. There is such a huge divide among followers of each of these acharyas. A famous Kannada saying goes, “Even if chased by a tiger, a vaishnavite will not enter a temple of Shiva”.
Again, I almost digressed here. So, in the middle of this journey of mine to discover myself, make a career for myself, I find myself married to a person from a totally different brought up, in fact, a very orthodox brought up.  This should have made me very nervous. But, It was the opposite. I found him to be very culturally aware, practical, honest and A very social being. Always having this quest for more knowledge. His knowledge of Hinduism rubbed off on me too.  Our families are still trying to adjust with each other and, the kids are making this easier for them. They being of interest to both our families.

Now, that my kids are growing up in the USA, they will be imbibing in themselves, both the cultures of the west(from schools and friends and teachers) and east. We as parents will be doing our part of giving them knowledge of where they come from, their culture and at the same time, I'm looking forward to learning from them, the culture of America to become a part of the diversity in America,  I hope we will be able to lead our kids in a direction, where they will feel enriched with all this diversity that they are part of, rather than get confused with their identity.

1 comment:

Rachna said...

I remember this caste question being posed to me the first time we came to Mumbai, and I was in the 7th Std. then. I was utterly confused as to what it was and had to go home and ask my parents what it was.

In my case, my parents were both even the same caste and same surname. Their cultures, eating habits, language was same, so it was way easier for us as kids in terms of our identity. My parents were very liberal, not stopping us in any way possible. We were not religious in terms of following customs. I never did any housework or cooking except what I wanted to, and in every practical way was brought up as a boy would. Being from Mumbai added its own character and independence to my upbringing and thinking.

After almost 10 years of marriage, I am happy to be married to a person who cares for me, likes my kind of food (though I have learned to make so many different things that he likes), my cultural preferences, my way of thinking and dressing and is not forceful of any customs and traditions. It would be difficult to adjust to say a South Indian household as I would be so boggled due to lack of exposure to that culture. In that sense, I feel a little lucky. I also feel lucky to have such an accepting family as my in-laws.

Hats off to you for managing so beautifully with your differences. And, I am sure all these diversities will continue to enrich your lives.