The coconut climber's blog

by - March 03, 2009

"What is your caste ?”

I remember staring back a little surprised. In front of me was one of the world’s biggest Godmen. To say I was nervous back then was an understatement. I used to wonder back then just how far her powers went – could she read my mind ? Did I just have to voice my prayers mentally and she’d hear it and reply? Could she look into my eyes and see my flaws ? Would she say I was unworthy of her blessings.. surely there were worse people than me in that hall, right ?

 In between these fervent thoughts, in this private gathering, she posed me this question. I answered her. She smiled. She was pleased. My caste was relevant that day to the topic of that gathering - my feelings for a girl. She said so. I believed her. I was pleased my low caste was worthy of her smile and her approval. I was happy that God was happy with me and my answers. In my defence, I had no prior experience of being the fly in the spider’s web.

Two years later, I joined an institution for my post graduate studies. And for the second time in my life, I found myself being asked a question that was meant to determine how I would be treated.

“What’s your caste ?”

“I’m a Thiyya.”

“Is that a low caste ?”

I stared back at the senior doctor as he waited for my reply.

“No, we’re actually the highest class in Kerala. We’re the top most of the lot.”

He seemed happy with the answer, as two years earlier a God woman was too. He walked away. During my brief tenure under him, I was treated as any junior can be expected to be, but comments of being of ‘poorer blood’ never reached me.

Of course, I wasn’t exactly lying back then. You see, we Thiyyas are pretty high up there. We’re basically the coconut tree climbers as far as I gathered. The ones who climb up the tree and get you the coconuts for your daily meal. So you see, there really ain’t much higher than us up there on that coconut tree. I am high class blood.

My caste should have mattered neither to a Godwoman who’s preaching love nor a doctor who’s taken the Hippocratic oath. But it did. Both decided my future based on my caste. And I let them. If I had to meet them today, I’d have told the doc that I was infact low class blood and didn't care  and I’d have told the Godwoman that I was high class. Just so that I’d have a nifty story on how I proved her divinity wrong without burning myself.

Everyday, in every field, we’re moving forward, exploring avenues which our parents never had the opportunities to. Yet we hold on to the ties of our past. That is of course natural, perhaps even essential, but is it really that difficult to see which are the cultural ties that need to be cut and which we should retain ?

  1. Do you really believe that being of your particular caste or religion makes you the best person around in God’s eyes, unlike the others ? That God doesn't listen to the others who pray because they aren't praying to your God ?
  2. Do you really believe that a woman having her periods should be deemed unfit to enter a temple to pray to a stone idol
  3. Do you believe that an inquisitive Indian should not be allowed to enter a temple because he is a Christian ( Padma Bhushan winner singer K.J.Yesudas, whose devotional bhajans ironically are the first sounds that greet these Gods in so many houses across India ) ?
  4. Is a friend who’s converted her religion suddenly no longer your friend, or at best someone you can meet outside but can’t take home to visit your parents ?
  5. Is it really ok to insult ‘meat-eater religions’ sitting in your potato-and-peas pious home, while doing animal sacrifices on holy days to appease the Lord ?
  6. Do you really believe that your religion is the only REAL religion and that other religions are foreign (Christianity ) / evil ( Islam ) / demigod worship ( Hinduism ) / insignificant ( Sikhism ) / devious ( Jews ) / not even a religion ( Buddhism ) ?
  7. When you vote to elect someone in the government, is it because of his policies for the development of the state or his religious inclinations and your love/fear towards the latter ? 
  8. Do you believe the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya will satisfy God ? Will it atleast satisfy your religious convictions ?
  9. Last but not least, in the future, would you be ok marrying off your only child to someone from another faith ?

 I guess I’ve rattled a lot of questions out there. These are all scenarios which have played out in front of my eyes at some point of my life. I'd really like to know your opinions on all these . As always, I don’t want the ‘right answer’. I just want a honest answer.

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26 comments

  1. I think the questions should be posed to a different crowd as who will be visiting blogs.

    Most here might say religion/cast doesn't matter and they care two hoots about it. But then the majority of India cares and will continue to care, as that is what they have been taught and that is what they see played out in front of their eyes everyday.

    I believe discrimination is something which you pick up from around you. If you have not seen it, you wouldn't know what to discriminate against.

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  2. Mr Dr - I probably happen to be the first one to read your post (considering one could not have visited and NOT answered!) In case one needs to know, I am a South Indian Hindu Brahmin, the so called highest class and here are my answers:

    1. My religion does not make me the best person around. But to an extent makes me what I am (good or bad) Obviously, the joy of chandan tikka on festivals and lighting diyas is a part of me and my religion has made me that. That said, it is important to state here that I derive immense pleasure in lighting candles in a church since I studied in a convent school. That is also as much a part of me. So what I am is a vivid fragment of all the religions I've been associated with. (I can go on about other religions' influences on me, but will cut short :) )

    2. Definitely not. In fact I hate the fact that it is imbibed so staunchly in our kid brains in a Hindu family that I myself do not want to enter a temple when I am chumming! can u beat that? I appreciate all my girl friends who visit the lords as and when they want to.

    3. Freakin' hell! Everyone should be allowed to enter everywhere that they want to. The thing to remember is - whatever be the religion, ways and paths might be different, but the purpose is the same. So freedom of following multiple religions or multiple Gods should be bloody legalized.

    4. I am glad I come from a family where I will NEVER be subject to that. My father has stayed in a hell lot of towns and has learnt that people everywhere have the same needs - of love and peace. So cultural tolerance is given the utmost importance in my family. (do u notice it is not about the religion or caste but about the family and upbringing?)

    5. Take my word for it - brahmins are the biggest non-veg community in the world - barring a few like me. I dont eat non-veggie food not because my caste stops me (dad and sister LOVE chicken and prawns!) but because i myself cannot muster the courage to eat a creature. Period.

    6. What the hell? Of course not! But I know at least one person each from all the religions listed there who thinks theirs is the 'right' religion. Again, I dont blame them or their religion, but I blame their spiritual leaders and families who are blinded by a faith which even their God will detest.

    7. I got a chance to vote only once since i became eligible and i voted purely for policies and will do so all my life. But the way our country runs, it is clear that people who vote, vote for wrong reasons and the ones who know the right reasons, do not vote. I will use this chance to promote jaagore.com. People please get your voter ID cards and VOTE!

    8. Probably a hospital or orphanage for displaced kids in these massacres will give any God some peace of mind. Definitely not a temple or even any structure that accommodates ALLL forms of Gods.

    9. Of course! I would want my kid to marry someone who can feed the family when hungry and will love my child. Mind you, this is not faff - this is what my parents want from anyone I will get married to - gimme decent food clothing shelter and loads of love in case those 3 things go missing one day. All other complications in boy finding are solely added by me. :D

    Mister Doctor, thank you for asking the questions and sorry for the LOOONG comment. Feel free to delete it if you think it is too much! :)

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  3. u have raised a very appr issue here..

    today when i had to open an sbi account[for internship] there was a column for caste and religion..!...was wondering how this will effect my money!!...

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  4. 1>No,despite being a brahmin who regularly does her prayers.I get what i sow,according to my karma

    2>yes,it feels uncomfortable.The logic behind this custom was to give women rest from kitchen duties and puja duties during that period.But now it's more of a restriction.Violating it would mean a complete repetition of rituals(purification)etc.So not worth the guilt or pleasure to go about violating.You can always say your prayers at home.

    3>No,in the jagannath temple at puri chandalas(the lowest caste technically) are allowed to share "maha prasad" with the brahmins..taking a step further to reinforce that god never made any discrimination but those who were the "custodians" of religion.

    4>Not the least.In fact my best friend recently converted her religion and we celebrated eid together.

    5>I am a meat eater.

    6>I believe in mine.But I love spending time with friends so any festival(holiday :D) is good enough a reason for celebrations.

    7>Had voted for a party with communal leanings but then it was better than a non performing pseudo secular opposition.

    8>No.The matter shouldn't be raised again if at all

    9>I still don't know which faith I would marry into.The child may learn from example,you ner know :P

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  5. ok.. lets take it one by one here..
    Aathira, sadly, you're absolutely right.. this is a set of questions that really should be answered by a class of people not accustomed to a raving docs blog.. rather to the majority of the public.. but well, this is all i got , pal.. I really can't deliver this any other way from my head to the public's doorstep.
    And yes, definitely cultural influences play a role.. which practises we choose rest in our hands, though.

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  6. Jinu..
    again, I agree on the role of the influences around us and how they affect us. Have studied alongside all religions all my life.. never knew to even look at religions as a defining factor till I came across it in my graduate years.

    The whole 'no temple during that time of the month' thing pisses me off.. have fought with a lot of friends on it.. haven't convinced one of them yet as far as I know.

    living as an NRI had some benefits I guess.. i got to see so many nationalities working side by side with peace and harmony and learnt to love that rather than this divide and rule policy.. sadly that didnt change the reaction of people I knew to a girl who did change her religion for love.

    as for the chicken and prawns, hehe.. all the more prawns for me !!! yippee

    everyone believes.. nay, is sure that their religion alone says the right thing.

    there is a structure which accomodates all forms of God.. 7 billion structures actually. They're called human beings. Too bad noone's noticed.

    And hey, I hope you do get your tailor made dude.. no apologies for the long comment. It's exactly what I want. To get people thinking and asking these questions.

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  7. brocasarea.. it affects every aspect of your lives.. the seat and college you get, the behaviour of your peers, even the way doctors treat you.. trust me on this.

    TLW, dude, where have you been ? Haven't heard from you for a looong time. How' life going ... me in Kannur presently. Met Thanni recently.

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  8. Illeen,
    I never sing bhajans or chants.. mainly cos I dont know the lyrics. But I always find if he wants to, that the Big Guy listens no matter what language or tune you ask..

    I used to try so hard once upon a time to change a girl's mindset on the 'period issue' because she was modern in all else , except this one point. It was like trying to drag Damien to the church ( the movie OMEN )

    I wish it were the other way around.. that a temple where the high and low castes eat together were the norm rather than the 'unique one'.

    I actually know a few friends who've converted religion. Never found any difference in any of them.. why should there be ? After all, our friendships were never based on religion.

    Meat eatin' Brahmin.. damn it. Unlike Jinu, I'll have to share my seafood supreme pizzas with you.. Grr !!!

    I dont know if theres really a name for my beliefs.. I believe in ALL RELIGIONS.. seriously. I believe all occured at varying periods over different cultures... all had unique ideologies initially.. then a virus called 'fanatic moron' crept in over the centuries.. but on the bright side, yup, more holidays and reasons to party!!

    You know, call me weird but I'm the opposite on the party issue. I'd prefer the non performer robbers.. it's just that I feel they steal money which is 'expected of our Indian politicos'.. but a party dividing the country on religious lines.. it vetoes all their good governance deeds for me.

    No use crying.. Ayodhya temple issue is back again.

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  9. Good one...
    How do u manage to write the best always :-)

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  10. seafood supreme pizzas..WOW..
    but uh really? will you?

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  11. n yes looking forward to your list.. you ve got to make 2 lists..one of english numbers and another of songs in your fav language.

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  12. Hello....

    nice thought provoking arguement you have put it up there :)
    Jus hope that 'needy' get to visit this post and learn sumthing...

    I'll keep visiting...

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  13. sumana, I'm too modest to brag about my immense coolness :)

    illeen, you're right.. I'd probably just give you the salt and pepper shakers.. I know, I know. Thats why I don't go out for any dates!!

    and i guess i better start.. that list is gonna take a while to find all the links

    ricochetrabbit, hehe such a cool name, man. Do come by..not all my posts are so morbid.

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  14. i have been often asked...

    err..are you a muslim??...then why a muslim name.arent there enuf Hindu names??DOES IT MATTER??

    i am supposed to be a high caste hindu kashmiri meat sheat eating brahmin,who does visit the temple during that time of the month...

    I have stopped trying to convince women,to come with me.

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  15. Gazal, first things first. I love your name. Really. I don't know if it's Hindu or Muslim, but it's definitely one I'd consider for my kid someday.. really.

    And trust me when I say this too, you're probably the first one I've met who admits to going to the temple during that time.. and my respect for ya just increased tenfold.. ok, ninefold. You'll get tenfold if you bribe me with home made meat sheat dishes :)

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  16. You have posted some relevant questions here. But as Aathira said it should be aimed to a different set of people.
    1) Definitely not. I believe it's your karma and not prayer that pays off in the end.
    2) Unfortunately I also follow that practice. I know it is stupid but something holds me back as I grew up seeing everyone around me practicing the same. But I guess I won't pass on this info to next generation. I know it's just a natural process.
    3) Anyone should be allowed to enter anywhere as they wish. Just that that freedom should not be misused and people take the places of worship as some tourist places.
    4) I have friends from all religions and castes (even friends who have converted to a different faith) and I don't see any difference in them
    5) I am a vegetarian by choice but I don't have any problem to cook meat and all my friends are a fan of my non-veg cooking.
    6) I'm a hindu but my Granddad although a hardcore believer of God was against all idol worship and meaningless rituals. So I still don't know most of the practices followed in the Hindu families. Also since I studied in a christian institution, I got to know that faith as well. Although looking back now I feel many of the teachings there were more inclined towards the superiority of Christianity over other religions. But if you have the right mind, you can pick up what is relevant for you and discard the others. In fact when I'm down, I love the serenity of church where I could just sit for hours with no one to disturb me.I have both Hindu and christian God's pictures in my house. I do go to gurudvara. I'm not that much exposed to other religious faiths but I have no problem in embracing them as well.
    7) I have never voted but I guess I was doing a crime by not using my right. And I'll vote definitely for the policies.
    8) Forget that..
    9) When two persons know each other and are comfortable with each other why to dig into their faiths? In fact I'm tempted to tell one of my experience here. When I was in college, one of my friend's mom was very fond of me. She was all praise for my nature and character. I took that as her fondness for girls as she had 3 boys. Later I realized she mistook me as a higher caste and wanted me to be her daughter-in-law. They had even asked my parents but when they knew that I don't belong to their caste they dropped it.

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  17. Dhanya, first of, yeah, I know.. Aathira's darn right on that point.

    A few of your answers were very significant...
    I know so many vegetarians who'd be aghast/offended at the thought of you cooking meat.. Me, I'm impressed actually because I can't recall knowing a veggie who isn't averse to it. veggie 'BY CHOICE' is the key there.
    I too got exposed to the 3 main faiths during my study years.. its helped show me the ups and downs of all of them. And same pinch,i too would actually prefer the calmness of a church to the hubbub of a temple.. though that's a taboo issue. And I have a cross and Hindu talisman sitting side by side in my wallet since the last decade I guess...
    And regarding the last question, I just worry that in the end, that too will get passed on to the next generation.. the ' marry within the caste because other castes are dirty' syndrome

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  18. :D you forgot the most important question buddy!

    "Do you effing believe?!!" :O

    It renders every single question you asked trivial. Laughable.

    Let me go bask in my intellectual halo while you kids still fight it out. I can be a prick at times you know.

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  19. man.. Grrrr.. talk about stealing my thunder..

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  20. honestly, i havnt been able to follow blogs for some time, because of which I did not know you were in town. Me n suman just got back today from knr. I swear on the Great Noodly One that I would definitely had made it to your place had I known. The Baker Boys' wares and the Galaxy bars all aside I mean. Hows the Big Butt doing? Hope the limp does nothing to the Raw Sex Magnetism.

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  21. aw, maan... would have been nice if you'd been there.. plus the fact that bro had just arrived so there were fresh stocks of the 'old set' - Toblerones, galaxy bars and Mars.

    As for me, well, no cure yet since no diagnosis available... but please... it'll take more than a limp to lessen this grand specimen of machoness... still, lookin on the bright side, I can remodel myself on Dr House from the TV serial

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  22. Answers to your Questions:

    Do you really believe that being of your particular caste or religion makes you the best person around in God’s eyes, unlike the others ?

    Nono. Who are we to judge. God judges.

    That God doesn't listen to the others who pray because they aren't praying to your God ?

    No. Thats a belief of a particular category of Christians ( I am a Christian)

    Do you really believe that a woman having her periods should be deemed unfit to enter a temple to pray to a stone idol

    Hmm God created man and woman this way. Women did not create periods of her own. So that is ruled out.

    Do you believe that an inquisitive Indian should not be allowed to enter a temple because he is a Christian ( Padma Bhushan winner singer K.J.Yesudas, whose devotional bhajans ironically are the first sounds that greet these Gods in so many houses across India ) ?

    No.

    Is a friend who’s converted her religion suddenly no longer your friend, or at best someone you can meet outside but can’t take home to visit your parents ?

    I never look at the religion of my friends. Some of them aren't sure themselves.

    Is it really ok to insult ‘meat-eater religions’ sitting in your potato-and-peas pious home, while doing animal sacrifices on holy days to appease the Lord ?

    Thats not correct. I have Iyer friends who eat chicken and even beef.

    Do you really believe that your religion is the only REAL religion and that other religions are foreign (Christianity ) / evil ( Islam ) / demigod worship ( Hinduism ) / insignificant ( Sikhism ) / devious ( Jews ) / not even a religion ( Buddhism ) ?

    Mmm...I do not have anything to say about other religions. I just follow mine and do not hurt or comment on anyone in the name of religion.

    When you vote to elect someone in the government, is it because of his policies for the development of the state or his religious inclinations and your love/fear towards the latter ?

    Tough question. Kerala politics itself sucks big time.

    Do you believe the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya will satisfy God ? Will it atleast satisfy your religious convictions ?

    No. It satisfies some personal interests.

    Last but not least, in the future, would you be ok marrying off your only child to someone from another faith ?

    Marrying off to a different religion involves the broad mindedness of my kid. It involves a sea change from existing beliefs and convictions, culture and customs. Adjusting with an entirely different environment is extremely difficult. If it is okay with the kid, then it is okay with me. But noone should bother me later !
    What I meant to say is, another religion is no problem, the ability to adjust and become one with them is where the challenge lies.

    So I am done :)

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  23. i agree with so many of ur answers... it gives hope that all is not lost, atleast a generation down the line cause we'd know not to teach our kids to follow the "wrong traditions"

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  24. Cast is matter only when we are looking for a girl from higher cast ;)

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    Replies
    1. haha... sadly these issues will never leave our state, I fear. Even after all these years, its still relevant.

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Let me know what you think.