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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lonliness and also Caste

Basu asked a few posts ago whether I have any Indian friends and I realized that I don't have very many friends of any kind. Not here, anyway. That is the trouble with moving a lot. I kept trying to fit in somewhere and I moved to five different states when I left home to go to college.

I now live very close to my best friend from home, she is the main reason that I moved to Maryland.

But now I know that I need more. I need other girl friends. My partner in my dance class is probably moving over seas soon and she doesn't seem too interested in hanging out outside of the events we go to.

I do hope to make friends at Chinmaya, but I know it is going to take a while. Many people there have known each other for years, I would guess. I see people come in and greet their friends and smile and talk and sit together and it makes me feel extremely alone.

Recently I've been doing too many things alone. I learned to do that from my traveling around. I show up at these things and people are welcoming, but it takes time to develop real friendship. (I started out going to Hindi meet-up group alone, but once my boyfriend and I started dating, he decided to learn Hindi also, so we go together now and he always comes with me to dance events, etc.)

Today in the BJ's parking lot I saw three African women finishing up their shopping together. They were dressed in African dresses and turbans. It made me think how much easier it must be to wear ethnic clothes and maintain one's culture when you have friends (or sisters as the case might be) to do things with.

Again, I felt terribly lonely. I suddenly understood why it would be so nice to have other people of your own culture around you. I wish there were more like me. Now, thanks to this blog, I know I'm not totally alone. But still, sometimes I feel a bit like The Doctor, the only one of my kind and there is a profound loneliness.

I do plan to stay in this area for the long term, so I hope I can make some good strong friendships here. (And starting that process, one of the commentors on this blog invited the boyfriend and me to dinner with her family. Little did we realize, we live in the same town! I'm really looking forward to that).

On a completely different note, new discoveries about the caste issue.

I've mentioned before that I feel like one of the real difficulties of Hinduism coming to accept converts is that converts don't have a caste. Even though socially, many have been trying to do away with the caste system for years, it seems to be still very commonly used in terms of what you know about someone. The sort-of social mobility that is built into the American character is not as common in India, from what I understand.

On my last post on this subject, a couple of commenters said the following:

Sriram said...
Actually caste is much maligned subject that has been misused for personal benefit.

The 4th Chapter, 13th verse of the Bhagvad Gita explains it in simple terms. Krishna says that he created the 4 castes. This was used widely by many to spread a half truth. The full line is where he says that he created the 4 castes but the caste of a person is decided by actions and qualities.

If one goes backwards and reads about who the authors of many of the books in Hinduism were, they were not born into the high caste families or blood lines. There are other controversial books but one has to see them contextually than in a generic all encompassing manner.

June 3, 2010 3:03 PM
Anil said...
Yes, I agree.

"Chaturvarnam Maya Shristam Guna Karma Vibhagasah" means according to nature and action people are divided into four classes. Ignorant people have made it by birth.

Also, I happened to read in the FAQs section of the ISKON website:
"In Bhagavad Gita (18.42-44), Sri Krishna clearly states that the Varna (caste) of a person is decided by his activities, not by birth"

Now, of course, this doesn't mean that the issue of caste suddenly vanishes. Even if it was meant to be a measure of our behavior more than our birth, it is still heavily used to judge and categorize people.

Still, it is good to know that this is a social construct and it can be separated from the religion without damaging the religion.

I can understand the idea that we are born into circumstances based on our sanskara, but as I've said before, I cannot accept that this is an excuse to treat people badly or deny them education (or going the other way, to expect more from people who were born Brahmin). It is not our job to judge someone else, it is our job to have compassion. There is no place to say, this person was born untouchable, therefore they must have done something horrible in a past life, therefore they deserve to be treated badly. We do not know what happened in their past life and we don't know for what purpose that person was born into the life they were. The only thing that matters is the present moment, and in this moment we must show kindness to all because they are all our siblings and our parents.


  1. I love the Doctor Who reference! I agree that its easier to dress a certain way/look a certain way when you have others in a group who do the same -Tt was definitely that way when I was a young Gothling.

  2. Regarding the clothes - yesterday, DH and I went to our temple, and on the way back, stopped at a warehouse store to stock up on a few things. I was wearing my darling denim salwar kameez I picked up in India a couple of years ago, and a bindi on my forehead and sindoor in the part of my hair. A couple of people stared, but most people glanced and kept going about their business. I'm old enough not to care anymore.

    It's getting easier to find Indian-inspired clothes in the US (and I do not mean Krishna is my Om-boy tee shirts). I stopped in at a local Kohl's and found a lot of shirts cut and embroidered very much like the tops I buy when I go to India. Tops like that and jeans and darling sandals are what the Indian women here wear when I see them in my local Indian food store or elsewhere.

    The clothes part was never an issue for me. But that may be because I live near NYC and no one really cares what anyone wears. And Indian looking clothes are hugely in style. Perfect for hot summer weather.

  3. Usually a whole tribe converts and becomes a new caste
    The ranking depends on how much it follows vegetarian norms

    Another way, is people marry into a caste and if accepted by the family, become defacto members of that caste

    These days caste is mainly used for marriage purposes

    The culture in a caste is very identical and removes the need for dating for several years to find out compatibility

  4. Swami Vivekananda sang the praises of the caste system and it is something I agree with - the part where it is not a person's birth but actions that determines. The caste system was also built in a way where occupations were divided into 4 groups and everyone went about what was given to them.

    Unfortunately, since the colonial period and perhaps even before that period, it was abused. Very sad indeed. As long as there's any sort of system be it in India or Australia or the US, that people get some out of (respect, status, money etc), that system will be exploited even though it started out with good intentions.

    I agree with the point raised by Anonymous about culture in a caste. It just makes things more easy and especially in an Indian community, it avoids conflict to a certain degree.

  5. CS, a denim salwar kameez sounds wonderful! Wow. Also, you are right that there are lots of Indian styled tunic tops in the stores now, so that's exciting.

    Dhurga, I agree that the caste system is a good idea that has been abused and I think you're right that these things are inevitably going to be abused. I can't suggest getting rid of it all together nor do I have a way to fix it, I figure all I can ever do is try to do the right thing in the moment.

  6. I think it was said in the Vedas, maybe it was the Gita (correct me if I'm wrong) but it mentions that everyone is born a Shudra in the Kaliyug.

    I feel the same way as you, I wouldn't want to get rid of it seeing how it worked wonderfully a long while ago now it's become so abused there are people who actually want to re-write the Vedas all over again.

    I was browsing online yesterday to find a good book to read while I have my uni holidays in a week's time, I came across this book by Illiah kancha (I may have gotten the name wrong) titled 'Why I am not a Hindu'. I read a few reviews of it and some of his interviews. All I can say is that while he's been disadvantaged by the system, he's the one that wants to do away with Sanatana Dharma as we know it. Me thinks, he doesn't know about Hinduism as much as he claims to. He's hold alot of resentment and has very conveniently converted to christianity and has started bashing everything Indian and Hindu. A real shame. And he's a professor too.

    P.S I eventually settled on A suitable boy by Vikram Seth and Speaking of Siva by A.K Ramanujan

  7. You'll have to let me know how you like A Suitable Boy, it's on my list to read.

    There are unfortunate times when people are hurt by systems and become very against them. I can be that way about Christianity sometimes. It raises me to levels of anger I don't have anywhere else in my life!

  8. I sure will. I've been meaning to get hold of it at a bookstore but managed to find it online. Hopefully it gets here sometime this week.

    Ahh I share your sentiments. I'm still volunteering in a christian group that sends funds to India to help with orphans and such. Although the money is going to them, I can't help but feel they are feeding the kids religion as well. These are mostly BC/OBC/Adi Dravida children and people. We have annual meetings at my place, and every chance they get they bash Hinduism to a pulp and even more so in the church I used to attend. I don't think I've ever been this angry with a religious group my life. Since we are all thought to view JC as one and the same as Vishnu or Shiva, I attended but it went too far.

    P.S Do you cook Indian food at home?

  9. I used to have more patience, but now I just feel like Christianity is rammed down my throat day after day and they have no problem dismissing the beliefs of others. I was also brought up to believe that Jesus was either an enlightened man or an avatar of Vishnu, but the way Christians practice with so much intolerance and hatred, I just can't stand it anymore. Anyway...

    I do cook Indian food at home. Not every night, but pretty frequently. For my birthday this year, my boyfriend got me real thaali plates with the little bowls, so we can eat traditionally! I love it. I've also started to get so used to eating with my fingers that metal utensils taste really weird to me now. Not so good for when eating out with company!

  10. honestly no one ever asked me my caste , except in religious rituals . and one can't guess mine from my surname because my family use title (which is often common to many castes , even religions.).

    now a days in india , excluding marriages caste plays no role if you are in urban area.

    caste still matters in rural areas but that too depends upon which state you are in.

    i hope you will get more like minded friends soon.
    - basu

    ps: how do those hindu organisations which allow non-indians deal with this caste question?

  11. i liked suitable boy. it is a very fat book but a nice , easy read.
    background is imaginary but influenced by real incidences and historical characters . so you can also have a feel of the post-independence environment.

    - basu

  12. The previous generation of Hindus, under colonial influence, considered Jesus an avatar

    Newer generations are more into directly debunking Jesus. The Arya Samaj directly atttacks Jesus, and Abrahamism

    Many modern Hindus are aware of historical contradictions of the gospels
    and its inconsistencies, such as Nazareth town being non-existent before 300 AD and the christian forgery in the Antiquities of Josephus and the Roman census details contradicting the gospels

    and December 25th being stolen from Mitra

  13. Admitting non-Indians into caste heirarchy

    It usually depends on the degree of sanskritization, meaning diet, name, and how close they adhere to standard Hindu norms of behavior

  14. Please watch the movie Agora, which shows what happened to the pre-christians of the Roman empire
    Intolerance is inherent in abrahamic religions - Thou shalt have no other god

  15. @ Aamba : Ahh I love thali plates. I'm planning to get a few faux banana leaf plates from India. Makes eating a little more fun and traditional. Surprisely I personally do not consider Jesus or Buddha for that matter to be avatars of Vishnu. Just great teachers who were socially responsible enlightened beings.

    @ Basu - I was born in Singapore and migrated to Australia. While caste based questions are rampant in Singapore, hardly anyone gives a toss. My community (Reddy) was very small in Singapore about 3 or 4 families. In Australia, when I got to uni, that was all the Indians were interested in. More so the Punjabi's.

  16. dhurga,

    i am from bengal but spend years in tamil nadu, delhi and UP (though i have limited interaction with the locals.) . i have also stayed in rural bengal. so far never faced that question. i know a lot of inter caste marriages too among my relatives and friends. caste doesn't seem to matter at all.

    may be like any other things , there is a lot of regional variation even in this caste question.


  17. Basu, I am not sure how the organizations that accept non-Indians deal with caste. I think there is somewhat less ritual in Chinmaya than in some places. I'll have to keep an eye out to see if it comes up.

    Dhurga, I do love old-fashioned, traditional things and I love my thaali plates! They are really fun. :)