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When I was in ninth grade, my classmates were introduced to Hinduism and some basic Hindu tenets in our Global Studies class. One of the first things that we covered was the concept of the caste system. There were the brahmins (priests) at the top, followed by the kshatriyas (warriors), then the vaishyas (merchants), and sudras (unskilled workers). Absent from the hierarchy were the untouchables. It had always been my understanding that caste was a birthright. One was born into a certain caste based on their past karma (fruits of their actions). The hereditary quality of caste, like eye color and skin tone, seemed indisputable. If my parents were one caste, then I would be of the same caste. Hence, at the time, marrying within the same caste made complete sense.
I read this article recently in the New York Times, detailing the honor killing of a Brahmin girl in Northern India who was secretly engaged to someone from a lower caste. The parents had apparently feared, “…ostracism, and accused her of defiling their religion.” She was 22 years old when she was found dead, and was apparently pregnant. While the argument from the family’s side is that she committed suicide, it is hard not to believe that she died at the hands of her family. I can’t seriously believe her fiancé could have posed a serious threat aside from being a threat to questionable ideals and the pride that the family derived from adhering to those ideals.
My discontent with the caste system as it exists today probably started with my most recent trip to India. I was about to head off to college, and was visiting India partly to pray at some of the temples. One of the temples I visited was a small temple in Ernakulam devoted to Devi (the female embodiment of divinity). We had gone to perform a puja (ritual offering) in honor of one of the manifestations of Devi, Saraswati (the goddess of learning). The priest was unsurprisingly, a brahmin. My experience with priests here in the U.S. has always been positive; they have always been very friendly and interacted with us as though we were family. Yet this priest, nice as he was, would not permit us to touch his feet as a sign of respect, nor accidentally touch his hands when he gave us prasadam (food sanctified by having offered it to the deity). Even Nairs (at least in the old days…maybe even now in some rural parts of Kerala) had a physical hierarchy, where the castes are segregated to some extent, intermingling only as much as necessary. That never seemed right to me. While we set ourselves apart from each other with these supposedly hereditary castes, I’m pretty sure there are people in each caste who may not necessarily fit what it means to be from that caste, whether that means they rise above the defining characteristics or fall well below the cultural expectations.
To my knowledge, there is no scriptural basis for the theory that caste is hereditary. In the Bhagavad Gita, there is the following verse:
sudranam ca parantapa
Brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas and sudras are distinguished by their qualities of work, O chastiser of the enemy, in accordance with the modes of nature.
(Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Chapter 18, Verse 41)
The next few verses delineate the qualities of each level of the caste system, without any reference to family or lineage as a deciding factor. The son of a sudra is not necessarily a sudra just because he is born to one. The same is true for other castes. It’s like saying the son of a doctor is a doctor too…ok well some parents may actually believe that one.
Unfortunately, caste still exists as a rigid, unchanging system where mobility is not an option. Intermingling among castes, while accepted nowadays in most contexts (more or less), romantic relationships still remain taboo. It is truly unfortunate and deplorable when parents react so harshly (and sometimes violently) in the face of an intercaste union. It is equally deplorable that, while people do interact across caste boundaries, some still hold on to the antiquated sense of superiority of inferiority supposedly conferred by caste. I really do hope this changes, it just seems like the product of centuries of misinterpretation and an intrinsic need to create a sense of “us” versus “them”. Once we move past those terms and realize that we are all in this together, and that we must do what we can to elevate each other socially and spiritually, then only can we make real progress.
Sometimes I watch Keith Olbermann and I wonder, would someone (not necessarily Keith) who is so liberal ever date someone like, say, an Ann Coulter (ok not quite raving lunatic conservative but nonetheless staunch conservative) type? In trying to find a guy, I’ve always said I don’t want a social conservative. I’m a liberal in all senses of the word, and I personally don’t think I would get along with a social or political conservative. Ok, let me elaborate. I don’t think I would get along with a social conservative especially if they are adamant about their views. Yet I wonder how many couples there are where both people were at odds, politically or otherwise, and have lasted for a long period of time. I’m sure there are many that exist, but I would think they would be in the minority.
So what about you?
Because it is brilliant.
It is basically The Ramayana from Sita’s perspective. Her story is juxtaposed with that of the cartoonist, who herself is enduring a bad breakup from her husband. I know there are some raised eyebrows from the Hindu community, namely the portrayal of the story and missing out the elements of the story that make Rama’s actions “make sense” i.e. time period, expectations of women, etc. However, the point of the Ramayana (and any other story/epic) is to inspire, and perhaps even provide comfort as the case seems to be here.
Check out Nina Paley’s blog as well. She bills herself as “America’s Best-Loved, Unknown Cartoonist.” I get the feeling she’s not going to be unknown for much longer.
In Sita, the cartoonist finds someone not unlike herself, faced with the sudden separation from her husband, whom she loves without boundaries. The story is wonderfully narrated by three, Indonesian shadow puppets, and the animation of Sita’s story and the cartoonist Nina Paley’s story are animated differently, both styles adding another dimension to each story. I think I liked the songs the most–all rendered by Annette Henshaw, a singer who sang the songs during the twenties–it was as though the songs were made for the film.
It aired on PBS New York (WNET) last night, however the full, streaming movie is available here:
This is a follow-up to my last Shaadi.com post.
So I should probably start out by saying that I created an account. I will admit it. I have an account on Shaadi.com.
Ok, cue the laughter…all right that’s enough.
Oh, and no you can’t see it.
You may be wondering, “After all that whining in your last post, why did you cave in and create an account on Shaadi.com?”
First, a refresher for my non-Indian readers:
Malayalees refers to people from the South Indian state of Kerala. Nairs refers to a caste among Malayalee Hindus, probably most similar to the general “kshatriya” caste.
Well it’s not like I’m wading knee-deep in Nair guys who fit my parents’ stringent criteria (as well as my own). I don’t have the time to go to many of these Malayalee events and conventions anymore (yes so that means I probably won’t be making it out to the KHNA convention in LA this year…sigh). Sure, Nair guys make up probably the largest chunk of the Hindu Malayalees in the United States, but among all Indians in the United States, we are a rarity. I think if I just left it to chance, I’d probably only end up finding someone who fits the bill by the age of…50? 60?
If I learned anything from my Human Bonding class in college, it is this: the largest pool of potential partners you will ever encounter is in college, after that, social networking/dating sites or other dating/meet-and-greet events are your next best bet (depressing, yes, but true). Well…that and people tend to be attracted to people who look most like themselves, but that’s another story altogether.
So I guess to answer the question in my last post…Shaadi.com may be a legitimate possibility.
However, I think Shaadi.com and a lot of other Indian dating/matrimonial sites seem to cater more to those in India than Indians that have either moved abroad or were born abroad. The vast majority of people who have profiles on Shaadi.com are from India. While, yes, I’m Indian, ultimately I’m a product of the United States. Yes, I took Carnatic music classes and classical dance classes, yes I like Indian culture, and yes I ultimately want to end up with an Indian guy. Yet I was born in the United States, and my outlook has been colored by my experiences growing up in the United States. Perhaps that’s why, for many Indians born abroad, Shaadi.com and similar sites seem ludicrous. I’m not even sure there are any websites geared towards NRI’s (non-resident Indians) or people of Indian origin that has the same popularity (or for that matter, as smooth an operating system) as Shaadi.com.
It would be even better to have a site for Malayalee NRIs/people of Indian origin, but that might be asking too much. If I had an ounce of computer programming ability, I would have started a site myself. Unfortunately, I’m as computer-challenged as they come. Anyone want to help me out?
So I’m hoping something comes out of my first foray into the (big and scary) world of online dating/matrimonial sites. It’s a crap shoot, but at least I’m keeping my options open.
Some of you may be reading this and asking, “What the hell is a chaddi anyway?” Chaddi in Hindi means underwear. This should probably pique your interest.
I heard about this a few days ago and think it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s kind of useless for me to rehash the whole story in my own words when someone else has done it very well already, so here is the the link to that.
Hindu fringe elements like the Shri Ram Sena give Hinduism a bad name. The rule of thumb for Hindus is to treat every woman with the same respect as though they were your mother or sister. Times are changing and women are more empowered in India and elsewhere. To try to violently bring them back into some ultraconservative way of living, where women are forever subservient to the demands of men, is foolish and horrific. Women will not be embarrassed anymore. We will live and love freely.
So please support the Pink Chaddi campaign. Visit their website and join their Facebook group. Mail pink undies to the Shri Ram Sena. I’d go so far as to say mail large, billowing, pink, granny-panties, just for kicks, but really it’s your call. Regardless of what kind of undies, they have to be pink, otherwise where’s the fun?
There are days when I wake up and I think, wouldn’t it be nice to not be single, find a guy, fall in love, marry, and settle down (or as will probably happen in the arranged marriage scenario…marry, fall in love, and settle down)?
Yet most days, I wake up and think that a world where I didn’t have to deal with the Y chromosome in that way isn’t an entirely bad alternative either. Unfortunately that’s not an option.
Every year, Valentine’s Day isn’t so much a dagger to my heart as it is a splinter in my side. Valentine’s Day…bah humbug. Here’s how I see it (at least from my albeit biased perspective).
I wasn’t really raised to look forward to Valentine’s Day. I guess that’s the price of living in a family that is geared towards arranged marriage. So I never found the holiday particularly exciting for a long time. Valentine’s Day, for the longest time, was something I celebrated in elementary school, where we would exchange cards because the teacher told us to do so. It was probably when I got to college that I started to take notice of the holiday.
Yet seeing the stores now with all the pink and red, the streamers, the heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, and the sappy cards makes me want to retch a little. Everyone who has a significant other is just dripping with diabetes-inducing, sugary sweetness in every syllable of conversation and every action, especially those in the early stages of a relationship. Even those who have been dating or married for years will take that day, if not that whole week, and inject it with as much romance (perceived or valid) that they can muster. For those who are single, there is always a sense of gloom that descends during Valentine’s Day, and the days leading up to it.
Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July, is another holiday gone rogue and commercialized. Everyone, in their celebration of the holiday, tries to live up to the idea of Valentine’s Day, not so much the idea of their own, unique romance with their significant other.
That being said, allow me one sappy, possibly cliché moment when I say that everyday should be Valentine’s Day for couples. If two people in a relationship need a holiday to remind them to be loving and romantic…I’m not sure what to say to them.
I will (grudgingly) admit that this could be partly a case of sour grapes. I have been single for every Valentine’s Day for my whole life. However, I will also admit that the holiday itself has gotten so incredibly commercialized to the point of tears. Do we really need to buy special Valentine’s Day, brand-name things to feel some sense of purpose? I don’t think so. Do we absolutely need to buy the other person something expensive or take them out to the best restaurants or romantic spots to celebrate? It would be nice, but I’d be just as happy at home. There seems to be so much pressure on both people in a relationship to do something amazing on Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t need to be that way.
But this year (as in recent years) I won’t be sad during Valentine’s Day. I will be celebrating Singles Awareness Day (S.A.D.). Sure I want a relationship, but being single is much more fun. Really, I swear it’s true. Keep in mind, being single for me means (for the most part) keeping the marriage proposals away, at least for the time being. Can’t exactly dive into a dating scene that is still ambiguous, vague, and sometimes a little taboo by Indian standards.
Being in a relationship, at least in the early stages, means having to be with that person all the time. I don’t mean that you’re forced into spending every waking moment with them, it just ends up that way. Blame a combination of neurotransmitters and hormones that produce good, old-fashioned infatuation. In some (slightly unhealthy) scenarios, relationships can overwhelm your life and supplant other things like studying, other relationships (family and friends), and work in terms of importance.
Yet being single means keeping your options wide open, being unfettered, and being able to keep all your other relationships intact. What this translates to is a) having a license to be flirty (to be used as much or as little as needed), b) having more time to bitch about how it sucks to be single to all your friends while not-so-secretly enjoying your independence. You don’t have to include your significant other in all of your activities, or cloister yourself away with only him or her. You can just do what you need to do, see who you need to see, and not answer to anyone.
Sometimes when someone is in a relationship, they forget how to exist on their own two feet. As a couple, you become a unit. Person A becomes inextricably linked with person B, to the point that sometimes they’re treated as one and the same. Independence is important, and sometimes it’s something that you have to relearn when you are single. You can’t form healthy relationships without some sense of self apart from your significant other. We do crave relationships and forming bonds with other people, but ultimately we have to know how to live and think independently.
Being single, most importantly, also means having time to do soul-searching, to figure out what exactly you want out of a relationship. I think that a lot of people (myself included) shortchange ourselves this little luxury while we, instead, moan about how we’re single. If we don’t really know what we want out of a relationship, can we ever have a successful one?
So yes, I do want to have my Valentine’s Day one day. I want it to be thoughtful and I want it to be romantic, but I don’t want it limited to one frigid day in February. Until I can find someone who can be like that every day of the year, I will fill my days with my other relationships with my family and my friends. I will allow myself to grow and mature as a person. I will be single, and I will be happy.
Happy S.A.D.! :p
I happened across a New York Post article on 9-year old Alec Greven and his new book on love and relationships. It’s simply entitled, “How to Talk to Girls.” The advice he gives makes perfectly good sense. It’s a surprise how, at 9, boys and girls seem to have a good grip on the nuances of relationships. It’s once we age that we over-complicate everything. Don’t deny it, you know it is true.
Here are the most true bits of advice he gave in his book:
1. “Girls always like the smartest boys.” Hit the books!
2. “Control your hyperness (cut down on sugar if you need to).” I suppose this applies to college students hyped up on coffee, or drunk out of their minds.
And most important of all…
3. “Girls win most of the arguments and have most of the power.” Good to know he has learned this early on, he will fare well in life.