First, a short personal note. Thanks, Rangaswamy for re-posting all my old bboard posts. My god, I can't believe there is so much enthusiasm for my old posts, some going back almost six years. My mailbox now is more flooded than my bathroom and old friends have been jumping out of the woodwork, left and right. (Hi, Paul Chemanoor !) Thanks, folks.
As you can tell, I do exist - in a biological sense - in the Denver area and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sorry, I don't work for the World Bank, though I wish sometimes that I worked for the IIT Kanpur branch of the State Bank of India, given their relaxed work atmosphere and the phenomenal dowry money that entitles one to. And beware of anyone trying to pass off as my relative, because I disown all my relatives - just kidding. But I do read SCI as often as I can and don't miss posts by Prem! or Fafat or Theo - congrats, Theo on Ram Lakh= an's poems, they were awesome.
However, my last bboard post was way back in January. The reason for my silence is that I have been busy getting back to good health. Some of you may remember that I had a major heart surgery last July to fix my defective heart valve. Now, I have recovered completely and my heart has healed so well that even cardiograms are not been able to tell it was repaired. I guess I have been incredibly lucky. Since my surgery, new avenues, which have thus far been closed, have suddenly become open for me. Such as, being able to do physical activities and exercises. So, since January, I have been spending almost all my spare time in just running and cross training. Just to brag some more, I even ran in the Boulder 10 KM race in May and finished with a decent timing. Now, time has come for me to post on the SCI again and bore you all to death.
A million thanks to Rajan Parrikar for posting all what I write, even though I know he does not agree with me on some of my points of view.
All these posts on thread hataoing has made me feel nostalgic. I was only a kid then. That was the year my grandparents had moved in with us on a semi permanent basis, changing our lives forever. My grandfather, world reknowned for his volatile temper, used to be a lawyer. Even at that young age, I figured that he wasn't much of a success as a lawyer and it was only his inherited wealth that kept his family going. For a man in the legal profession, he was completely untouched by the Freedom movement. In fact, he had a passion for the Raj. Well, I am digressing.
At the appropriate day in the month of August, the famous 'thread' used to be ceremoniously changed in my household. It was the day my grandfather would look forward to the most. He would arise earlier than usual, which was something like the previous night by my standards, soak himself in oil and have a lengthy bath and that would kindle his appetite like crazy. But he couldn't eat anything till the Panditji came over and conducted the ceremony and the threads were changed. A small pang of hunger had already appeared in his stomach with a tremendous ferocity and he was going insane. There was no sign of the Panditji yet.
"It is already fifteen after eight and where is this low life, scum of the earth of a Brahmin Pandit" My grandfather demanded, looking at the clock every ten seconds. My father would try to make peace. "That's okay. I have taken the morning off. Let him come whenever. After all, today is the only day he gets to make his money"
"What do you know ? Such things have to be done at the right time. You know that I don't have prejudices about castes and so forth. The only thing I want to do is changing my thread and a few personal things because it is our Karma to do these things. Ramesh, why don't you go to his house and find out why that fatso is so late ?" Are you kidding ? It is a good fifteen minutes bike ride.
Finally the Panditji arrived ! He secured his old bicycle to a tree and checked three times to see if it was going to be safe there. He was the size of a dirigible and we kids always found that funny. And he would talk non-stop like some of the basketball commentators.
"Is everything ready? Shhh. It is really hot today. Can I have the fan on ? How are you kiddo (referring to me !) you know that you need a thread too. And then you can become a bonafide Brahmin. Tell your parents. Oh, hello, uncle (referring to my grandfather !) how are you doing Sir? Are you keeping good health? You look like a picture today, with so much of sacred ash and your lily white dhoti. It is my good fortune that I have the acquintance of great people like you" the Panditji was rambling on, lying through his teeth, as our household quickly got ready for the ceremony.
"I am fine of course" My grandfather snarled. "Everybody has the Thread ceremony bright and early. These days everything is topsy-turvy."
"I got a little delayed" apologized the Panditji.
"There is no respect for anything these days. Only chaos everywhere." My grandfather.
"Uncle seems a little angry about something. I wonder what happened" asked the Pandit without realizing that he was the reason for my grandfather's ire, fueled by his relentless hunger pangs.
"Angry ?" My grandfather retorted. "We have been waiting since dawn for you and you take your own sweet time coming over here".
"Oh, that. Uncle, I got a little delayed at the Judge's house. They had seven people changing threads there and it got a little delayed."
"Yes, sure, Judges are more important. After all, I was only a lawyer who never became a judge. This has always been the story of my life. How soon you guys forget. It was my grandfather, the great Subbaraya Iyer, who was not only the chief priest to the king but also the accountant for him, he owned no less than 200 bighas of land, and he was the one who bailed out your great grandfather from a certain starvation."
"Of course uncle, who can forget that. Generations of our family are indebted to your family. I was also telling the Judge that I had a more important client and that if he kept delaying me I would have to dump him from now on."
Was this man for real ? Why would he suck up to my grandfather to the point of jeopardizing his own career ? It was only years later that I figured out that the Panditji was a master of public relations and flattery.
Very soon the holy rites began and the robotoid elders went at changing their threads in a mechanical way and I remember watching the whole process with wide-eyed awe. My grandfather was dictating the terms and the Panditji was taking all the abuse. "When you chant mantras you must do it well and not go at it like you are an express train" my grandfather would admonish the man.
After it was all over, the Panditji was also given a meal along with his usual meager fee as a part of the deal.
"Look at the man eat. He is gobbling idlis like he has never seen them before. Even Asuras would eat in a well-mannered way. And I am sure he must have had a solid go in the judge's house. No wonder his tummy is so huge it is about to explode" My grandfather would comment wryly and it was then I decided that my grandfather was not fair to the Panditji.
"Pandit, before you leave, make sure you give me some spare threads". My grandfather demanded. "You folks don't make them as well as you used to and they don't last that long any more".
"How many, uncle ?"
"Oh, about six or seven"
"That many ? I don't think I have that many. See, many got consumed at the judge's house. I didn't realize he was going to get all his relatives. I still need to go to two or three places...."
"Aw, come on, you must be having several. You can easily spare that many" my grandfather closed the case. I did not see him as a grandfather, but as an oppressing despot, harassing his subject. Why would two grown-ups haggle about a commodity with no monetary value ?
On such auspicious days, my grandfather was technically supposed to observe a religious fast. But as soon as the Panditji left, he cheated the system and god by consuming countless idlis after dousing them with delicately blent chutney. He was like a man possessed, especially considering the nasty comments he made about the Panditji's table manners. It is okay to eat idlis when you are fasting, only you are not supposed to eat cooked rice. And later, in a state of spritual bliss, he let go dozens of burps with various degrees of difficulty. After a siesta and a hot cup of coffee, my grandfather was all fresh and energized, without even a trace of the memory of the morning. The thread has been changed. It was a job well done. Now he was good for another year. He was at peace with himself.
I don't know why this incident is etched in my memory. But then, my memory is always full of these junk recollections rather than life-changing experiences. I think I did learn something about castes and casteism. I am not sure exactly what. I learnt that Brahmins, the only 'caste' I was then familiar with, was not a monolithic entity. There were people like my grandfather and now my father, who hang on to the vestiges and symbols of their caste and change threads, for purposes of Karma, even as they were seeking unBrahminical opportunities like being a lawyer or an engineer. Then there are these Panditjis who lead double lives dealing with my grandfathers and other intra-caste bigotry, making a living out of casteism while looking at greener pastures wistfully, unable to bootstrap themselves out of their economic misery. Was my grandfather changing his thread without conviction because he could not think of a guilt-free way of giving up this practice ?
And it was then that I decided I wasn't going to wear a thread. I also learnt a corollary. That a pot-bellied human being, such as the Panditji, who instantly made us kids giggle with his appearance, can actually lead quite a miserable life and that I ought not to judge people by the way they appeared.
At a macro level, by discussing the thread and 'hatao'ing it, are we even looking at the larger issues such as casteism and religious bigotry ?