Blend is Beautiful
God created humans and humans procreated religion. A soul is pigeonholed into one particular religion even before it is sequined with blood, bones and flesh. Humans, the self-proclaimed ‘showstopper’ of God’s creation, do not want to survive as mere Homo sapiens.With brighter brains and commendable capabilities, they categorised themselves further inthe name of origin, culture, creed and caste with the hope of creating an explicit identity. In the present fast paced and technology driven multicultural world, mere survival becomes an everyday skirmish for the body and brain. Therefore taking dictation from ecclesiastic scriptures is put on the backburner. One can fabricate an agnostic approach, but can nevertruly expunge religion as a concept. No man is an island. We are social animals and remainbound to budge with the flow. Pre-ordained societal norms shape our beliefs at every stage of our life. A blastocyst, which is just an assembly of cells in a mother’s womb, not only bears the tag of a religion but is also handcuffed with culture, customs, rituals and family traditions. If you ask me my identity in this colossal world, I would assess myself to be a civilised human first and foremost. I tread alone in this aisle of thoughts however. They call me an Indian and a Hindu by religion. Digging up a bit further, my identification reveals a little bit more. I am further classified as a Bengali Brahmin, topped off by being bracketed as Pashchatya Vaidik.
My nurturing was steeped in Bengali tradition. I was born into a family of Sanskrit pundits.The opulence of Vedas, affluence of Bengali culture, vivacity of Brahmin customs were ingrained in my genetic constitution. Bengal and Brahminism ran in my veins. Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Sukumar Ray moulded the artist in me. The revolutionary changes brought by Netaji, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, J C Bose provided further ammunition to boastabout my Bong connection. The accolades garnered by eminent Bengali personalities all overthe world added feathers to my Bengali roots. With the richness of Bengal sheltered in my bosom, I stepped out to embrace the worldly affairs. And then, LOVE knocked my door. The primeval emotion which couldn’t give two hoots towards the diversity amongst humans. Atall handsome guy with a charismatic personality, culturally labelled as an Iyer, stole myheart and I soon set on the blissful ride of marriage. My life’s boat sailed through the journey of conversion from Daughter to Daughter-in- law. My not so great intellect even named the transformation as Meye to Mattuponnu. Miss. Bhattacharya was now Mrs. Iyer. Not only the family changed but a plethora of differences reared their head before me. Hindu mythology illuminates the one-way journey of Saint Agastya to the southern part of India. It is often believed and colloquially voiced that once one crosses Vindhyachal, return is impossible. In my case, I was tangled in an irrevocable journey anyway; a journey of love, a trip of mutual trust and relentless companionship. My marital life has remained blissful to the truest sense.
Tamil and Bengali New Year often remain joined at the hip and the same happened this yeartoo. Seeing thus, I was thrown back in time a little. The day I crossed the threshold of Bengal and was ensconced amongst Iyers, the differences between the two cultures did bother me a little. The gastronomic differences were not troublesome since eating had always been a mere part and participle of survival for me. My stomach could chomp anything edible for humans.
However, I would be lying if I say I did not feel the jolt when a Sunday was not a day of maangsho-bhaat (mutton curry). Amidst my God fearing dynasty, I was the only one skeptical towards superfluous system of appeasing God. I shouldered an amnesia driven somnolent outlook while participating in various religious tasks in my own family. However, I was not destined to escape. My union with Mr. Iyer brought me closer to something what I never craved for. My mind was muddled, for I found God too conspiring against me. They say what’s there in a name. True. But a name is, after all, the first means of identification. My brain, which was saturated with the utterance of Om Vishnu by my bloodline, now floated in the omnipresent chanting of Guruvayurappa and Venkataramana. To my surprise, Gonesh Thakur of Bengalis bore a new name, Pillaiyar. Lord Shiva offered solace by allowing a familiar and similar route to appease him. Maa Durga was Amman here. Not only the name, but their looks were different too. Karthik Thakur was Subramaniya (or Muruga) and Lord Ayyappan was added to the list. When I eyeballed the practices, I found some differences there too. I was nurtured to garnish pushpapatra (plate of flowers to worship) with not only flowers but with dhurba (holy grass), white and red sandalwood paste and something called gobindobhogchaal (a kind of fragranced raw rice). Here, pushpapatra had only flowers where marigold was strongly discarded. Red sandalwood paste was replaced by red kumkum. Dhurba was prejudiced towards Lord Ganesha. Vibhuti became an integral part. Gobindobhogchaal was alien to them. In the list of festivities, Pongal (festival of harvest), Karadayan nonbu (praying for husband’s long life) and Karthikai deepam figuredprominently alongside Paush Sankranti, Poila Boishakh and Durga Puja. The different style of food during festivities caught my attention as well. Bongs celebrated festivals with bhogprasad containing khichudi, polau, labra and payesh, while my Iyer connection prepared a variety of flavoured rice mostly accompanied by a mixed vegetable curry called avail. Sweets were usually sakkaraipongal (a rice based dish sweetened with jaggery) or Kesari (a semolina based sweet dish).
Given a chance, the rosogolla-zealots and thayir sadam-fanatics would spend their whole lifetime penning down the differences and placarding their superiority over the others. But I ask you, is it worth? We are born to be different. God differentiated us physically andgenetically while we differentiated ourselves culturally. Every culture is different and exhibits a distinct way of performing any ceremonial act, thereby giving birth to a distinct ritual. The rituals we follow are dictated by our traditions, which in turn are directed by our roots. My variance from the norm neither makes me nor the others wrong. Soon after marriage, I packed my bags to settle in a foreign land with my Mr. Iyer. Nobody expected me to follow any rituals or customs. Neither the Bongs nor the Iyers. Rather all of them presumed it as a means of escape for me from the rituals. However, my consciousness proposed something better. I wished to adopt the differences and make a blend out of it.Being a microbiologist by qualification, I declared my Bengali culture as Innate and Iyerculture as acquired.
My year starts with the Gregorian New Year. Pongal and Paush Sankranti knock my door as the first festival to celebrate. It is a visual delight to be seated when pitha-payesh isaccompanied by both types of pongals. To everybody’s titanic surprise, I celebrated my firstKaradayannonbu draped in a Dhakai jamdaani saree, hands adorned with shakha-pola. Tamil New Year arrives one day before the Bengali one and thus, the celebration continues for two days with loads of lip-smacking delicacies. It gives me the utmost pleasure to watch
Mr. Iyer performing Bengali style Sarawati puja on Basant Panchami day and then repeating the same in Iyer style during Navaratri. I channelize my Vijayadashami wishes too. Iyers are wished in the morning while Bongs in the evening or consecutive days. Almost everything is like chalk and cheese but there is a connection, logic and discipline as well. Names of GOD sounded unlike but the goodness of spirituality remained intact. The two languages could never coincide but both became just a mode to emote. My taste buds were exposed to victuals that were poles apart but each and everything satiated my hunger. Mr. Iyer was showered with all the love during Jamai shoshti and Bengali traditional kurta-pyajama kept accumulating in Bong festivals. Diversity was displayed in my wardrobe too. Kanjivarams, Mysore silk and many more south cotton sarees gained their place amidst my Tangails andTussars.
Cultural bigots often define my life to be complicated and cluttered. However I failed to find it so. I accept my life to be ‘instruction-laden’, as MY enthusiasm to learn something new always remains at its zenith. But it is certainly not cluttered. The literal meaning of culture is to grow and to cultivate. When the whole world hollered about the differences, I chose to go with the parallels. Every culture merges with the same motive, to grow as a social animal. Differences did occur with situational demands but I enjoyed the differences as they provided me a room to explore, scope to learn and the all important habit; to accommodate. I don’t agree that my identity is decreed by my origin. My prudence and aptitude are the ones that craft my identity. My accomplishments, not my virtue, define my culture in this human world. No single culture can ever be supreme. None of us can define the entirety of a single culture. We carry forward whatever fits our comfort zone. Today I bear my maiden name but carry the richness of both the cultures and believe me this BLEND IS BEAUTIFUL INDEED.
About the Column: Nature’s serenity and splendour, its uncommunicativeness amidst this deafening world, the intricacies of human emotions that I come across, the nitty-gritty of every relationship I stumble upon and my incessant battle within to explore myself always give birth to an avalanche of thoughts in my prolific mind. Sometimes I construct a story while at times stories construct me. Each story I pen down serves as a growth hormone for my creative mind. Every creation of mine is different from the other still I leave a bit of me in them. This column "Tête-â- Tête" unbridles my perceptions towards relations, my rendezvous with a myriad of emotions, and my encounter with life to the world.
About the Author: A microbiologist by qualification, Atrayee Bhattacharya has served as a researcher in CCMB, Hyderabad, India and an educator in a CBSE school. Presently, she is associated with a group of educators preparing students for research aptitude. She is a trained dancer, finds peace in penning down her thoughts, a good singer though not trained and wants to visit Rome someday.